TRANSPORT secretary Chris Grayling said today that re-opening the Colne to Skipton rail link by 2025 has moved a significant step closer.

He confirmed the £400million project to extend the East Lancashire Line across the Pennines has been found 'technically possible' by an initial study.

The Cabinet minister announced a second stage investigation into whether the demand for freight traffic on the route would make it commercially feasible.

Mr Grayling, speaking before a visit to Colne, made clear his personal commitment to its reopening, provided the business case is made.

Since the 12-mile line was closed in 1970 there has been a growing campaign to re-instate it spearheaded by SELRAP.

The news was welcomed by Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson, Colne Liberal Democrat Lord Tony Greaves and Transport for the North board member Cllr Phil Riley, Blackburn with Darwen regeneration boss.

Mr Grayling said: "The initial study has established that it is technically feasible to re-open the route.

"This is the next stage to look at whether the demand for freight is enough to make it viable.

"The value of re-opening the line to passengers is a given but we need to see if enough freight would use it to justify it.

"I am personally committed to re-opening the Colne to Skipton line as an alternative route across the Pennines for freight traffic but that does not mean it will happen. The business case needs to be made.

"If it is the Department for Transport would provide the £400m needed for the scheme which would include improvements to the East Lancashire line from Preston through Accrington and Blackburn, possibly including doubling tracking the section from Burnley to Colne.

"If the case is made, work on re-opening the line would start in the early to mid-2020s."

Mr Stephenson said: "I am delighted the transport secretary has agreed that re-opening this line would be beneficial and has commissioned more work to explore its benefits. This is good news for the whole of East Lancashire."

Cllr Riley said: "This is great news. Re-opening would benefit all of East Lancashire."

Lord Greaves said: "This is good news."

Mr Grayling will also discuss reviving plans for a Colne bypass with Pendle Council leaders on his visit.

He ruled out early consideration of extending the M65 from the town across the Pennines.

Skipton MP Julian Smith MP said: "I am delighted that Chris Grayling has again today committed the Government to continued work on the Colne-Skipton re-opening and improvements to the East Lancashire line, which is what many local campaigners have long been calling for.

"If the scheme is able to proceed, it will provide a huge boost to businesses in Skipton and Ripon, and be a real demonstration of how this Government is backing local businesses by improving vital infrastructure across the North of England.

"I hope that we can now proceed quickly with the next steps, so that the benefits of this project can be realised as soon as possible. Many congratulations must also go to all those who have got the campaign to this stage."