The council has set the wheels in motion for even better access to the East Lancashire railway, the 3rd most visited heritage railway in the UK, after opening a new link road at Heywood station.
The road, the result of £100,000 council investment, will provide a direct access from Manchester Road to the Heywood station site on Station Road, opening up the popular railway to 1000s of potential new visitors travelling via the M62 and other boroughs.
Access to the Heywood site was previously only available through residential streets, via Green Lane and Cross Street, meaning one of the area’s most popular tourist spots, which regularly welcomes major steam locomotives like the Flying Scotsman, was hard to find.
The new road will also provide a boost for businesses in the area, like restaurant wholesaler VA Whitley and Italian restaurant, Il Vecchio, by improving access and parking for their customers and delivery vans, and reducing traffic for local residents. New signage has also been installed to highlight the attraction.
"The new road is the first part of a major redevelopment around the East Lancashire railway"
Councillor John Blundell, cabinet member for regeneration, said: “The East Lancashire railway, which connects Bury and Heywood, is a real success story for our borough, welcoming around 200,000 visitors a year. It also provides a fantastic boost to the local economy, generating £3.7 million annually and supporting 50 full time equivalent jobs.
“Making this star attraction and its surrounding businesses easier to access will open it up to an even bigger audience. This is just the start of our work to improve the ELR in our borough and its importance will only grow as we move forward. We’re certainly on the right track.”
Big plans are in motion for the attraction, with the council, TfGM and Network Rail exploring options to connect the heritage railway to the mainline station at Castleton, meaning the heritage railway will be connected to the national rail network for the first time. Other options include improving visitor facilities, with the potential to introduce a shop and café at Heywood Station.
Mike Kelly, Chairman of the ELR, said: “The development of Heywood Station remains a high priority for the ELR working with our partners to make Heywood a destination of choice for our travelling passengers. Here, I want to pay tribute to the members of Rochdale Council and Heywood Township who have made available funding to make it easier to access the station.
"The important reopening of Manchester Road creates a solid foundation from which the ELR and the council could usefully explore further exciting opportunities to develop improved and permanent station facilities to encourage our passengers to stay and explore the area”.
Councillor Peter Rush, Chair of Heywood Township Committee, said: “The construction of the new road is a significant investment in Heywood which will benefit local residents and businesses as well as making it easier for visitors to find and enjoy the East Lancashire Railway. It was great to see children from Hopwood Community Primary School attending the opening event and marvelling at the steam engine, as visitors of all ages do!”