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Local authorities reject plans to turn Monsal cycling and walking trail back into railway line

“We believe that any benefits from reopening the line would be far outweighed by the significant adverse economic and environmental impacts it would create,” says Derbyshire County Council

A proposal to reinstate a former Peak District railway line along what is now a popular cycling and walking trail has once again been rejected by local authorities, who have argued that any benefits derived from converting the Monsal Trail back into a reconstituted ‘Peak and Dales line’ would be “far outweighed by the significant adverse economic and environmental impact” of such a decision.

Opened in 1981, the Monsal Trail is an 8.5-mile-long cycling and walking trail in the Peak District National Park which runs along the former Midland Railway line between Topley Pike junction in Wye Dale and Coombs Viaduct, south-east of Bakewell.

In 2011, four of the former railway line’s tunnels – Headstone, Cressbrook, Litton and Chee Tor – were opened once again as part of an extension of the trail after laying disused for 43 years (when the line was closed in 1968 as part of the Beeching cuts).

Since the 150-year-old tunnels were given a new lease of life over a decade ago, the trail has become one of the most popular destinations for walkers and cyclists in the UK, offering spectacular views of steep gorges and limestone hills, while businesses, including cafés and bike hire facilities, have flourished along the route.

> Four disused Peak District railway tunnels set to reopen in Monsal Trail extension

However, since 2019 a campaign group has advocated for the reopening of the old railway line in order to provide a direct link by train between Derby and Manchester. To facilitate this scheme, the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership (MEMRAP) has proposed moving the Monsal Trail to a new location.

MEMRAP believes reopening the rail connection will “reconnect isolated communities, provide additional capacity for both passenger and freight national railway network and help Derbyshire to meet its carbon emissions targets.”

The campaign, however, despite being supported by some local MPs, has been met with fierce opposition by supporters of the Monsal Trail. Last year, 15,000 people signed a petition against the reopening of the line, while the plan missed out on funding as part of the Department for Transport’s ‘Restoring Your Railway’ programme.

Since then, MEMRAP have insisted that any relocation of the existing Monsal Trail to facilitate the railway line will result in the creation of an “even better” cycling and walking path.

“If it is done very sympathetically with the Monsal Trail I don't see why it couldn’t benefit everybody,” MEMRAP’s Neil Johnson told the Derby Telegraph today. “After health and education, transport is one of the most important things.

“With commerce, industry, tourism and connectivity all high on the agenda the innumerable benefits are obvious.”

“People have an emotional love for the Monsal Trail, which is understandable. But we are wanting to re-provision the fabulous trail, connecting it to stations along the reinstated railway, ensuring that visitors can continue to enjoy this spectacular attraction,” adds MEMRAP’s chief executive Stephen Chaytow – though details of where and how the trail will be resituated are currently thin on the ground.

Responding to MEMRAP’s resurgent campaign, which also claims that the reinstated railway line will reduce traffic in the area by 40 percent, a spokesperson for the Peak District National Park Authority said: “There are two key tests that will need to be applied to any proposal to reinstate a railway line on the Monsal Trail, and the bar for each of these tests is set high due to the nature of the trail and its location.

“These tests are: 1. Need: Is there a strategic need and is that need in the national interest? 2. Impact: Can an equally convenient and acceptable provision of the Monsal Trail be provided elsewhere that is of a similar quality and without having an unacceptable impact on the high-quality landscape and environment through which it passes?

“The Authority has worked with MEMRAP to understand if their current proposal can pass these tests. However to date we have not received anything to indicate the tests can, or have, been overcome by their work.

“The National Park Authority is totally committed to a low-carbon and sustainable future for travel and access for all to the National Park. However, we do not accept that the reinstatement of the railway on the route of the Monsal Trail is part of the solution, for the reasons we have set out above. We cannot therefore, support the reinstatement of what is being referred to as the ‘Peaks and Dales line’.”

A spokesperson for Derbyshire County Council also told the Telegraph that the local authority is “an active supporter of rail transport and over the years has been heavily involved in opening new lines and stations in the county.

“However, we are not supportive of the proposal to reinstate the Peaks and Dales line between Matlock and Buxton.

“We believe that any benefits from reopening the line would be far outweighed by the significant adverse economic and environmental impacts it would create. The line of the proposed Peaks and Dales rail means using the Monsal Trail, which could then not be used for cycling and walking as it is now.

“No other alternative has been identified that would offer the same route that so many local people and visitors enjoy.”

Ryan joined as a news writer in December 2021. He has written about cycling and some ball-centric sports for various websites, newspapers, magazines and radio. Before returning to writing about cycling full-time, he completed a PhD in History and published a book and numerous academic articles on religion and politics in Victorian Britain and Ireland (though he remained committed to boring his university colleagues and students with endless cycling trivia). He can be found riding his bike very slowly through the Dromara Hills of Co. Down.

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