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A new railway for the Dales - but no relief on the A65

Friday 11 July 2003

Our countryside correspondent John Sheard welcomes a re-opened railway line for Wensleydale but despairs that life will ever get better for the villagers of the A65

TRANSPORT was very much the centre of public debate this week and once again, for the Yorkshire Dales, it was a case of good news, bad news. Sadly, the bad news heavily outweighed the tiny glimmer of good.

Goods news, perhaps, for the Settle-Carlisle?

Earlier in the week, the amateurs who have strived for years to re-open the old BR branch line from Leeming to Leyburn through the splendours of Wensleydale saw their dream come true.

The line was closed 40 years ago when Dr Beeching took his axe to Britain's rail network - the world's first - and left it so that it wasn't a network at all for most country folk, just disjointed spokes that don't join up with the wheel.

For my sins, I have to go to Manchester from time to time from Skipton. Once there was a direct line via Colne and Blackburn. Now, I have to go east to Leeds, then cut back west. It can take three hours and cost a small fortune. So I go by car: I can be there in an hour at a third of the price.

The opening, or rather the re-opening, of a railway line was received with such stunned disbelief that it got national coverage, even long slots on television. Needles to say, it would never have happened but for the efforts of volunteer enthusiasts - Rail Track, or whatever it is called these days wants to cut trains, not provide more.

There could even be better news - in another ten years or so. The Wensleydale enthusiasts want to extend further west and eventually link up with the west coast mains lines and the Settle-Carlisle.

This would allow visitors to take a circular trip round the whole of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and that is to be greatly welcomed if it would keep their cars of the roads.

But that, I'm afraid, is it: the line would be mainly for the tourists. For people who live and make their daily bread in the Dales, such an infrequent service would be virtually useless. And with buses virtually non-existent, they will continue to use their cars too.

Then, on Wednesday, the Government announced a vast £1.2 billion investment in new motorways throughout the country, making an even bigger idiot of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott who demanded, five years ago, that he should be held to account if he hadn't brought about a huge decrease in road traffic by … now!

Now I promise readers that I am as bored with the antics of Two Jags as they are. I wish he would go away, before he lands Yorkshire with another of his grandiose and completely madcap schemes, a regional parliament.

But I cannot help but point out again that his very first act when Labour came to power was to scrap the bypasses which had been approved for construction around Gargrave, Coniston Cold, Hellifield and Long Preston.

They would be finished now, and their residents spared further decades of noise, pollution and danger from racing motorcyclists. Barely a week goes by without someone being killed between Skipton and the Settle Bypass - and all too often it is some poor local hit by a stranger unaware of just what a death trap that road is.

But here's the rub. All that one billion plus is going to be spent on new motorways serving the big cities. There's not a penny to be spent on rural roads. The A65 bypasses have joined the Dodo, meaning endless misery for the foreseeable future for we regular users.

To quote John Prescott in 1997: "I will have failed if, in five years time, if there are not fewer car journeys. It is a tall order but I urge you to hold me to it."

The man asked for it. Can someone please do it? Put him out to grass, Mr Blair, before he does any more damage. Preferably on the grass of a motorway verge!

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