One of Britain's biggest rail user groups is calling for 13 miles of track to be brought back into passenger use to provide a new 120-mile long-distance train service.

A through service from Manchester to Carlisle via Hellifield in the Yorkshire Dales is the aim of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line who want to see it as a supplement to the present Leeds-Carlisle service.

The 13 miles between Hellifield - on the Settle-Carlisle route - and Clitheroe is already used for occasional special trains and has track and signalling in place.

"At the moment there isn't any form of public transport between Hellifield and Clitheroe," says Philip Johnston, chairman of the Friends.

But there are already regular passenger trains from Manchester to Clitheroe and at Hellifield to Carlisle in the north and Leeds in the south.

The Friends have joined with Ribble Valley Rail, the Aire Valley Rail Users Group, the Lancaster and Skipton Rail User Group, the Wensleydale Railway Association and the Yorkshire branch of the Railway Development Society to urge the Strategic Rail Authority to include the 13-mile stretch in the passenger service requirement of the new Northern Railway franchise.

The campaigners say the service would be useful for travel to work, business, education, leisure, shopping and access to Manchester airport.

"A full service between Hellifield and Clitheroe is long overdue," said Peter Shaw, vice president of the Friends. "And a new Manchester-Carlisle service would also enhance the service on the Settle-Carlisle line which currently has gaps, at times, of up to three hours between trains."

The 13-mile stretch of track will be in use on 3 March 2001 when Virgin will use it as a diversionary route when the West Coast main line is closed for engineering work.

Lancashire County Council already supports the idea of a regular service and the rail campaigners are expecting other local authorities, MPs, the Yorkshire Dales National Park and tourist boards to add their support.

Media contact: Pete Shaw 01274 590453