HEREFORDSHIRE Council has given a green light to a feasibility study for a rail link to Rotherwas.

A senior officer has now been instructed to progress the development plan and prepare a further report for cabinet.

Initially, no resources were been identified for carrying out the initial feasibility studies for the project.

Now, the council has confirmed that it will take responsibility for undertaking related demand forecasting at a cost not expected to be more than £10,000.

Previous assumptions had Network Rail and train operator London Midland carrying out elements of the feasibility at no cost to the council.

Significant costs - at present estimated at over £500,000 - kick in should the initial study show the potential for the development of a major transport scheme business case.

The project's reliance on outside support and advice is already identified by the council as a risk, should that support not be forthcoming.

Earlier this year, cabinet considered a development plan that will be the basis for the feasibility study.

This development plan was prepared as a response to the previous full council passing a motion - in September last year - that supported “urgent and positive action” towards reinstating a the rail link into Rotherwas with a new station, park and ride scheme and rail freight facility.

The motion requested that the development plan - and an associated funding proposal - should be placed before the council at the “earliest opportunity” so that it can be progressed through the Local Enterprise Partnership and government funding routes as soon as practicable.

Any plan will have to follow guidance from Network Rail, specifically it’s programme for investment in stations.

The key principles of this guidance are:

- Is the new station likely to be feasible from an environmental engineering and design perspective?

Is it operationally feasible?

Is the investment likely to have a “positive business case”?

Would the proposal require any ongoing subsidy in addition to capital investment?

Any impacts on services need to be agreed with train operating companies which run related rail services.

Both Network Rail and train operating companies are funded by the Department for Transport which would also need to be engaged over the proposal.

Locally, the council will need to clarify any planning issues and environmental impacts alongside land ownership and impacts on other developments in the Rotherwas/South Hereford area.

Ahead of this, however, the study backed by cabinet has to demonstrate the project’s potential to achieve that “positive business case” and attract external funding or justify the allocation of council funds.

The study, then, has to consider:

- Can the station be built?

Essentially, is the project feasible from engineering, environmental and design perspectives, including outline capital costings.

Network Rail will lead with local assessment of the land use implications and on-going development of the Hereford Enterprise Zone.

- Could it work within the existing rail network?

Again, Network Rail will lead on “operational feasibility”.

- What is the likely demand for it and would there be an ongoing service?

The report will have to set out projected demand levels and service implications.

Promoters have already indicated that the scheme will include an extension to the  Birmingham to Hereford rail service currently operated by London Midland.

- Is it likely to deliver value for money and attract major scheme funding?

Network Rail will lead on this too.

The findings will enable the council and/or Network Rail to determine whether or not the proposal warrants any further detailed assessment.

Cabinet support for the present feasibility study comes with a warning that future stages - which would comprise detailed design and feasibility work and major scheme business case development in order to prepare funding bids - are likely to incur “significant costs” in consultancy fees.

As proposed, the rail link and station are not prioritised in the council’s corporate plan or local transport plan (LTP).

However, the findings of a related business case study in 2012 are part of the LTP adopted by the council in September last year.

Those findings noted that the proposal - which included a new rail service operating between Leominster and Rotherwas - did not represent good value for money, requiring an ongoing subsidy to operate and capital investment of over £10 million.

Nor does Network Rail consider the project a priority.

The capital costs of constructing the line – which could include land acquisition, remedial costs if  existing land ownerships are adversely affected and covering the relocation of services and accesses - and the potential revenue costs required to subsidise a rail service will also have to be considered and understood within the business case.

Funding options do depend whichever organisation wants to take the project forward.

Network Rail sets out its investment programme in “control periods” covering five year blocks.

The next control period into which the Rotherwas proposal might fit is 2019-2024.

Should the council adopt the proposal as a priority, it would have to allocate funds through local sources - prudential borrowing, local transport plan, developer contributions - or through a bid for external funds.

At present, his would be via the Local Enterprise Partnership which can access government funding through the local growth deal programme.