RAIL bosses were grilled by frustrated members of the Cumbria Better Connected campaign on Friday (December 22).

The group, convened by Barrow MP John Woodcock, met at Ulverston’s Coronation Hall to discuss issues on the county’s lines and hear plans for improvements on the network.

For interested parties attending the meeting, one of the key concerns was the age of rolling stock being used on the Furness Line, Lakes Line, and West Cumbria Coast.

“The quality of rolling stock is very significant indeed,” said Tim Farron, MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

“The likely impact of World Heritage Site status for the Lake District is there will likely be more demand on less visited parts of the county.

“The quality and reliability of rolling stock is more important than it already is.”

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, added a reliable rail and road network was vital in handling increasing visitor numbers.

“We have an ‘attract and disperse’ policy and it’s about encouraging people to come and stay for longer in different parts of the county,” she said.

“Having a road and rail network that delivers and supports that is key.

“We are a world class visitor destination and it’s key we give those visitors a world class experience.”

Craig Harrop, director for Northern Rail, said many of the old Class 37 (diesel-electric locomotive) trains were to be replaced in the New Year with newer Class 68 (type of mainline mixed traffic diesel-electric locomotives) until May, by which time the existing trains will be refurbished and re-introduced on the Cumbria rail network.

“To give an analogy, we’re currently running a taxi service with classic cars,” he said.

“The Class 37s are not ideal.

“The 68s are far better in terms of reliability.”

He added that some of the 98 trains Northern had commissioned would start operating on the Lakes and Furness lines in 2019.

Mr Harrop also spoke of £60 million of improvements to be carried out at stations.

These include the installation of new shelters, ticket machines, signage, seating, CCTV and other measures.

“Between January and March, you will see these things appearing at stations right across Cumbria.”

The Cumbria Better Connected Campaign will next meet on February 9 at noon.