A VIRTUAL shutdown of rail services in south Cumbria over the Easter holiday is set to deal a huge blow to the region's tourism industry on one of its busiest weekends.

Tourism chiefs have been joined by MP Tim Farron and rail user groups in condemning what has been described as a "cavalier approach" by Network Rail, whose planned engineering work will see the Lakes Line shut down for the whole of Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday and a string of other closures including a partial shutdown of the Furness Line.

Although a replacement bus service will be operating, there are fears the loss of visitors will result in a severe financial hit to the area, and the move was described as a "huge kick in the teeth" for the local economy by an angry Mr Farron.

The list of closures, which in addition to the total two-day closure of the Lakes Line and an Easter Sunday shutdown for the Carnforth to Grange section of the Furness Line, also includes the total closure of London Euston for the entire four days of the holiday weekend.


This, along with the closure of two other stretches of the West Coast Main Line at Wigan and Motherwell for the middle part of the weekend, mean it will be very difficult for London-based tourists to visit the Lake District by rail.

Rob Talbot, chairman of the Lakes Line Rail User Group, has circulated a letter to train operators Virgin and Northern pointing out what he describes as Network Rail's "appalling lack of empathy for the nature of the passenger rail market north of Lancaster, which is at least 75 per cent leisure, and at holiday periods nearer to 100 per cent of a much higher volume of traffic."

"What sort of message does this send to prospective foreign visitors within days of the UK leaving Europe, at a time we would need to be developing our industries including tourism?" he said.

"It just beggars belief what is going on and it just shows what we are up against."

Mr Farron was equally scathing.

“Easter weekend is massive for Cumbria’s tourism industry so there is no doubt that this will be a huge kick in the teeth for our local economy," he said.

“They could have literally picked any other time of the year to do this work but instead chose one of the busiest travelling weekends of the year – common sense has been well and truly chucked out of the window.

“This is a slap in the face for people wanting to visit our beautiful part of the world and for local people wanting to visit family and friends at Easter, and especially for our vital hospitality and tourist industry.

“This is not good enough and I’ve written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling and Network Rail saying they must think again.”

Gill Haigh, managing director of Cumbria Tourism, said: “We know that Network Rail traditionally schedules improvements over bank holidays to minimise the impact on the commuter market, but this doesn’t recognise or consider that north of Lancaster rail travel is predominantly leisure and almost wholly leisure travel at key times like Easter bank holidays.

“Carrying out engineering work over the Easter weekend is disappointing, not only because it’s a key weekend for tourism businesses, but also because it closely follows the suspension of strike action by Northern Rail staff in a very long-running dispute.

“As we continue to work on a campaign to encourage more people to visit this area by rail, we strongly urge Network Rail to re-think the timing of all projects which may affect visitors’ ability and desire to come to the Lake District and Cumbria as a whole, during traditional holiday periods.”

A spokesman for Network Rail said: “There is never a good time to close the railway. Bank holiday weekends are some of the least busy times when we can carry out essential maintenance work to help keep the network the safest in Europe, and to prepare for HS2, which will transform rail travel.

“The industry has worked together to plan the work over the Easter and May bank holidays to cause the least disruption to the fewest number of people.

“The majority of the rail network will be open as usual and where work is taking place, alternative routes or ways of making journeys will be provided.

“We apologise for any inconvenience caused and can assure passengers the work has been carefully planned to be completed as quickly and safely as possible.”