Campaigners fight to save the Monsal Trail from rail line plans
More than 13,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Monsal Trail to remain a route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders and not be used to reinstate the Buxton to Matlock railway line.
Last month, the Buxton Advertiser featured a group who wanted to transform a nine-mile stretch of the trail back into a freight and passenger railway.
But not everyone is in favour of the plans and now campaigners on the other side of the issue who are fighting to save the much-loved trail, have gathered a 13,000 signature online petition which will be sent to the Department of Transport.
Trail advocate Lee Cooper-Smith said: “If the railway is reinstated it would be a huge loss – it is one of the most unique walks in the whole of the UK combining beauty and history and the ripples would be felt across the whole tourism industry.
“The Monsal Trail attracts a lot of visitors and a lot of businesses have been built around this industry from the cycle hire places to the cafes and the wholesalers which supply the cafes and B&Bs would go out of business if the trail was lost.
"Due to the topography it is not possible to have rail and trail within the valley. If rail wins, the trail will have to follow the route of the B6465. The whole appeal of walking along the same line, through the same tunnels will not be possible if the line is reinstated.
"This would reduce the appeal of one of our key tourism assets that is partly responsible for Derbyshire's £2.3 billion tourism trade that many of our local business rely upon and the 30,000 people they employ.”
The Monsal Trail follows a section of the former Manchester, Buxton, Matlock and Midlands Junction Railway, built by the Midland Railway in 1863 to link Manchester with London. The line was closed in 1968 by the Labour Minister for Transport Barbara Castle, not by the Beeching Axe, and remained unused for twelve years before being taken over by the Peak District National Park.
The trail was opened in 1981 and now attracts around 300,000 people every year to the area.
Speaking about the figures released in 2019, the head of visitor experience development at the Peak District National Park said: “These figures show just how important the National Park’s multi-user trails are to our millions of visitors.
“For many, a day’s bike ride with the family or exploring the wildlife and heritage alongside the trails is their first taste of the Peak District, and the accessibility of many of these routes makes them even more valuable for those who live within our neighbouring towns and cities.
“We are continuing to invest in facilities and also looking at how we manage the trails with their ‘environmental footprint’ in mind, such as using sustainable and recycled surfacing materials.”
Those taking in the trail can walk along the Headstone Viaduct, pass by Cressbrook, Litton Mill, Hassop railway station, and six tunnels.
Lee said: “It was only ten years ago the government spent more than £2m on restoring and reopening the tunnels to make them more accessible for everyone and now that all seems forgotten."
In recent years there have been plans to further improve the Monsal Trail with Derbyshire County Council supporting the creation of a circular cycle route linking Buxton, Bakewell and Matlock with the High Peak Trail.
Dubbed the White Peak Loop, it includes extending the Monsal Trail to Matlock, a proposal which received strong support from a public consultation exercise in 2014.
However, Lee says the idea to reinstate the line is heavily supported and being pushed by the quarries who want to shift more stone.
He said: "The last feasibility study concluded that a passenger service would run at a substantial loss and would require funding from the public purse which is why the rail line closed in the first place. So it’s likely that we wouldn’t see a passenger service at all.
"But most definitely we’d see heavy rail freight.”
Speaking about the return of trains, Lee is concerned about how it would even be possible as Northern Rail was taken back into government control just last year.
He said: “The plans to bring back the Buxton to Matlock line were first voiced decades ago.
"Now the train companies are on their knees - they can’t support themselves anymore so it seems wrong to adding to an infastructure which is already crippled.”
The CPRE, the countryside charity for the Peak District and South Yorkshire objected to the proposals back in 2004.
A spokesperson said: “The project has some tough tests to pass if it is to go ahead. As a major development in the National Park, it must show exceptional circumstances, for it to need to be in the park, and be in the public interest.
“In addition, this is a sensitive environment with strong protection for White Peak habitats and geology.
"The potential impacts on recreation and quiet enjoyment in a tranquil part of the National Park are also potentially a showstopper. The 9-mile Monsal trail is immensely popular with walkers, cyclists, horse riders and the less mobile.
"Topographical and ecological constraints would make it virtually impossible to create a replacement trail of equal character and quality.”
Lee said it is important to act now and take a stand and added: “We propose to offer a counter voice before we lose it.”
Anyone wanting to sign the petition to keep the Monsal Trail can find it at https://www.change.org/p/department-for-transport-save-the-monsal-trail.