BUSINESSES, councillors and residents worried about the future of the Furness Line need to ‘stand up and be counted’.

That was the message from Peter Robinson, chair of the Furness Line Community Rail Partnership, at a conference attended by some of the most influential people in south Cumbria.

Under new rail timetables the number of direct services from Barrow to Manchester Airport has decreased from six to five while in the opposite direction it has dropped from nine to seven.

The changes have not reduced the number of services but it means that passengers for the airport have to change at Lancaster or Preston.

“There is a serious possibility the line will become no more than a branch line from Manchester, or Preston at best,” Mr Robinson told a crowd of delegates including councillors, business leaders and rail campaigners at Barrow Town Hall.

“There is a wide-ranging consultation out in Spring and it’s vital for south Cumbria that everyone stands up and be counted.”

The meeting was organised to kick-start the next stage of the Cumbria Better Connected campaign, instigated by Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock, which has the support of Manchester Airport Group and Ulverston-based GlaxoSmithKline.

Mr Woodcock called for not only the preservation of services, but also for electrification of the line.

“2014 is the critical year to make the economic and social case to retain and improve services,” he said.

“Fundamental to the future is the transport infrastructure and the bed rock of that is the Furness line’s connection to Manchester, the region’s capital.

“I will do whatever I can to make sure we are speaking with many voices but with one message.”

He added that around £30,000 would be needed to conduct official research to ‘back up our case’.

Harry Knowles, chief executive of Furness Enterprise, said: “We are on the brink of significant opportunity and talking about cutting rail services seems perverse.

“Cumbria is a powerhouse of manufacturing, why are we considering any form of reduction?”

Chris Nutton, of Transpennine Express, said: “We all know there can be a better future and we are committed to hearing your case but investment must be realistic and value for money.”

Mr Woodcock added: “I am buoyed by the room’s energy, positivity and determination to do better.”

He said there were four action points to take from the conference. They were:

*Firming up funding for analysis
*Continuing to forge links with interested parties
*Joint lobbying with MPs from constituencies along the line
*Circulating a campaign document