The deadline looms for Dales' lorry reprieve

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THE PROSPECT of up to 120 lorries a day thundering through the picturesque Yorkshire Dales moves closer this week as time runs out for a reprieve on plans to switch huge loads of limestone from rail to road, in opposition to government policy.

British Steel alarmed people living in the Dales with an announcement that it intended to switch the movement of all its limestone dust along a 22-mile rail link, from Redmire quarry in Wensleydale to its iron-making complex at Redcar on Teesside, to road hauliers.

It said the decision had been taken because of increased costs. A reprieve on the plan runs out on 30 September with no clear solution having been agreed.

The Government's transport policy faces a potentially embarrassing test with the possible switch from rail to road. There has been a public outcry in the Dales over the plan, which would mean some 8,000 tons of limestone being transported by road.

The Wensleydale Railway Association is campaigning to try to promote a return to passenger use of the rail link, plus the reinstatement of a further 18 miles of track from Redmire on to Garsdale, but if the switch is made this plan would almost certainly fail.

An umbrella group, involving the WRA, the Council for the Protection of Rural England and Transport 2000, is pushing for a 'rail not road' policy.

The campaigners are proposing a rescue package which would involve North Yorkshire County Council buying the line for a nominal sum, making it eligible for a Department of Transport grant of up to pounds 3.5m.

Earlier this month Sir Alistair Frame, chairman of British Steel, said there was 'absolutely no doubt' the switch was the right economic decision.

British Steel said talks were still 'ongoing' and a firm decision would be made before the end of September.