Should the Buxton to Matlock railway line reopen?

ON THE WRONG TRACK -- Kirkby train station, which still has no access for the disabled.
ON THE WRONG TRACK -- Kirkby train station, which still has no access for the disabled.

More than 1,200 people have signed a petition calling for the Buxton to Matlock railway line to be reopened - but do experts think it would be viable?

The 18-mile track stopped taking passengers in July 1968 and closed to freight traffic in 1981.

Since February 2013, two petitions have been submitted to launch feasibility studies to investigate the possibilities of getting the line up and running again.

The most recent of which was at the end of August and sent to the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, who is also the Derbyshire Dales MP.

He said: “I know how important rail services are in connecting local communities and securing long-term economic growth. That is why this Government is investing record amounts in improving the rail network across the UK to provide better journeys.

“It is for Derbyshire County Council to decide whether there is a case for reopening the line between Buxton and Matlock, and we stand ready to work with them and provide guidance on how to take this scheme forward.”

The northern section of the route remains open for freight traffic from the quarries near Buxton, while in the south Peak Rail has restored the line from Matlock to Rowsley South for heritage steam journeys.

A county council spokesman said: “In 2004 specialist consultants were commissioned to carry out an independent study looking at the feasibility of re-opening the Matlock to Buxton railway.

“The consultants concluded that on balance it was difficult to make a strong case for re-opening the line for a variety of reasons.

“One of the main reasons was that the project would need a high level of investment and with little chance of private funding, public funds would be needed from the Government.

“With local authorities facing budget cuts the need for Government investment now takes on greater significance.

“Other reasons included the environmental impact of re-opening the line – particularly on local residents, countryside users and nature conservation sites in the area – as well as little appetite for using it as a freight line for industry and little benefit for regional rail passengers.

“Since the study we have worked with partners to extend the countryside trails along the route.

“However, the existing use of the line as a route for walking, cycling and as a heritage railway at Matlock means its continuity is protected and we’re able to continue to monitor any developments.”

In 2013, another letter was written to Mr McLoughlin by a Chapel-en-le-Frith rail campaigner who wanted the line reopened after the proposed route of the UK’s High Speed Rail (HS2) network was unveiled.

Phase two of the HS2 network will pass from Birmingham northwards along two branches: to Manchester Airport and Manchester; and via Toton near Nottingham, to Sheffield and Leeds.

The founder and chairman of the former High Peak Rail Passengers Association, Edmund Bradbury, claimed that reopening the Buxton to Matlock line along with the Woodhead line in the Longdendale Valley, between Glossop/Hadfield and Sheffield would be of considerable benefit to the economy and the environment.

In 2013, Railfuture - the UK’s leading independent organisation campaigning for better rail services for passengers and freight - backed plans for a feasibility study to be conducted to try and reopen the line.

Now, 18 months later it is backing the latest petition which is calling for the same thing.

Spokesman Bruce Williamson, said: “Buxton is a rural place so reopening the line would allow people to be better connected.

“Rail usage has sky-rocketed in the last 20 years, and while it may have been viable to close the line decades ago, now is the time to have it running again.

“This line has been well protected by the council and not recklessly sold off so it could be reopened fairly easily. With more working rail lines comes more options for passengers and would help ease the congestion on other lines and on the roads.”

Some people would like the line to be taken over by Peak Rail, the heritage train company which provides tourist tips between Matlock and Rowsley, and have that service extended from Matlock to Buxton. Mr Williamson added: “Heritage lines and commuter trains can coexist on the same line. Having locomotives running are a great additional to the area and boost tourism however there can be more scope to blur the lines; a commuter service could operate in peak times and a the heritage line could offer trips in the day.”