THE vital role that the Furness Line can play in the economic growth of the area has been high-lighted to a Government minister.

A delegation of politicians and campaigners presented the case for the line to Liberal Democrat Baroness Kramer in Westminster.

The Baroness is a minister at the Department of Transport.

The meeting was prompted by continued fears that the Barrow to Manchester line is being downgraded as electrification takes place elsewhere in the north west.

The delegation which included Barrow and Furness MP John Woodcock and representatives from the Keep Our Future Afloat campaign, Furness Enterprise and the Cumbria Local Enterprise Partnership, emphasised that:

l Passenger services to Manchester and its airport need to be retained and improved

l Rolling stock needs to be modernised to improve passenger journeys

l Electrification or dual electric/diesel services need to be introduced

l Furness needs better rail connectivity so it can fully exploit £4bn of investment due over the next seven years

The minister welcomed the thrust offered by KOFAC, unions, Cumbria LEP and Mr Woodcock and noted that there had been a 27 per cent increase in passenger numbers using Barrow over the last four years.

She acknowledged a need to address rail rolling stock quality and improve passenger journey experiences as part of the next franchise bid round.

The minister also said she was looking forward to seeing the results of the recent Cumbria Better Connected camp-aign into rail provision.

KOFAC chair Terry Waiting said: “The Minister listened intently to the delegation, showed keen interest in its approach and offered valuable guidance on progressing the aim of sustaining rail links.”

Mr Woodcock said: “Our campaign to have Furness better connected by rail has taken another step forward with the scale of growth anti-cipated in Furness and west Cumbria.

“It is vital that service levels are improved to benefit businesses and residents as well as boosting growth.”