CONCERNS have been raised that a £12.5m scheme to double the number of passenger trains on one of the busiest lines in the Northern Rail franchise may have hit the buffers.

The ambition to double the number of passenger trains between Harrogate and York as part of a commitment to improving public and sustainable transport by next year has been delayed due to “a timetabling challenge”.

Plans to run at least 30 trains a day in each direction, Monday to Saturday, and 20 in each direction on Sundays, and to reduce journey times have become clouded in uncertainty after Network Rail identified a capacity issue.

James Farrar, chief officer of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership, said while his body and North Yorkshire Council had agreed to fund signalling upgrade and increased speed work on the line, Network Rail had been unable guarantee service improvements.

He told a meeting of the council’s transport scrutiny committee the York-Harrogate line crossed the East Coast Mainline and various other lines north of the city at Skelton, where a junction affected the availability of space on the York-Harrogate line.

Mr Farrar said: “We are not going to spend £12m of public money unless we can have some reassurances about the outcomes that the money is going to deliver.

“We desperately want it to happen, strategically it is massively important if you look at the growth that’s planned along that corridor.

“We have said to Network Rail that we will do it at risk if they guarantee if it doesn’t happen we can have the money back. We haven’t got that reassurance back from Network Rail yet.”

A Network Rail spokesperson said it was “unable to consider any stretch of the railway in isolation” and a decision as to what services could run on the line could only be taken when it had an understanding of other demands for services on the East Coast Main Line.

The council, which has agreed to plough millions of pounds of taxpayers money into the scheme saying it will represent an important part of helping the York-Harrogate area realise its potential, while also strengthening east to west transport links that it describes as “vital to the county as a whole”.

Some councillors have privately expressed concerns that Network Rail may never prioritise the York-Harrogate line or delay the work for many years.

However, Councillor Don Mackenzie, the council’s executive member for access, including rail transport, said he remained optimistic the scheme would go ahead in the future.

He told the meeting: “We have allocated over £3m to this proposal and as we all know dealing with Network Rail is not the easiest of challenges.

“We are very much committed to it, with all the growth that’s expected through divisions such as the Green Hammerton area it is a vital part of the transport infrastructure that we need.”

Harrogate station is the busiest in North Yorkshire, with 1.65m passengers last year, up by six per cent from the previous year and by 40 per cent over the past ten years.

Passenger numbers on the line continue to be strong: Starbeck is up by eight per cent and Knaresborough by ten per cent, compared with zero growth on average nationally.

Large scale residential and business development in Harrogate and elsewhere along the line will increase demand further.