MORE than £8 million in funding has been secured to support a plan that aims to improve freight and passenger services on the Cumbrian Coastal Railway Line.

The government has agreed to provide £7.5m in funding to support a business case developed by Cumbrian Local Enterprise and Cumbria County Council, with the money used to prepare the next stage of the plan.

The money will be used by Network Rail to set out the specific upgrades required for the line, which aims to improve connectivity with the south of the county and the wider rail network, as well as making more space for freight trains.

It is hoped that passenger services running alongside freight trains will also see smoother journeys after the changes.

Network Rail’s work to further define the changes needed, will help to prepare a future case to fund improvements on the ground.

Plans will be boosted by an £835,000 contribution from the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership.

Cumbria County Council and Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership have developed the plans alongside partners such as Transport for the North and Network Rail.

It is hoped that the planned upgrade will also support economic growth, the tourism sector and create jobs.

This process is expected to take two years.

Jim Jackson, Deputy Chair of Cumbria LEP (CLEP), said: “This is excellent news for Cumbria. The Cumbrian Coastal rail line upgrade is urgently needed in order to improve the capacity of the line and to ensure that businesses can use it to deliver their growth ambitions and to support their workforces to make better use of public transport.

“The decision by the government to fund the further development of the business case takes us a step further forward towards the line being upgraded. That is why the LEP is delighted to invest up to £835,000 in the development of the case.

“This is the successful outcome of over two years of hard work. My thanks to the many people who contributed and engaged so positively to get to this point, including West Cumbria Mining, Sellafield, and the NDA. Importantly, Network Rail, the DfT and the Cumbria County Council team - without their support this would not have happened.”

Barry White, chief executive of Transport for the North, said: “This is really great news for Cumbria. It will deliver real change for the communities along this section of coast and help unlock new jobs and economic growth – not only for the county, but as part of the bigger picture of improving the freight and passenger links between the North’s two energy coasts.

“Our purpose is to support the North’s communities to secure the investment they deserve and enhance links between our industries – this initiative will do just that.”

Roisin Nelson, sponsor at Network Rail, said: “As part of Network Rail’s open for business programme, we’re committed to working with businesses and the rail industry to support the growth of freight and passenger services on the strategically important Cumbrian coastal line.

“Our study will identify the potential upgrades needed to allow growth for freight traffic and better connect tourist areas which is vital to the local economy.”

Councillor Keith Little, Cumbria County Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “I am delighted at this news, which is a major step forward. A huge amount of collaborative work went into reaching to this point and I’m grateful to all the organisations and agencies involved.

“This line requires significant improvements - the upgraded route will support economic growth and provide new opportunities for our local communities as well as the millions of visitors who come to enjoy Cumbria every year.”