REOPENING a rail line between Harrogate and Ripon would be economically viable, a detailed study revealed on Tuesday.

A single line track, which would cost about £40m, could initially attract 1,200 passengers a day, rising to 2,700, the feasibility study has revealed.

The 11-mile line was shut down in 1967 as part of a purge on loss making branch lines.

The independent survey was carried out by Leeds consultants JMP.

An earlier report had forecast the survey would come down in favour of the line reopening after consultants received hundreds of responses and a favourable "face-to-face" public reaction.

Detailed findings will be discussed by North Yorkshire County Council, Harrogate Borough Council, Ripon City Council, the Countryside Agency, Ripon City Partnership and other interested parties, including Ripon Railway Reinstatement Association.

The survey also looked at the possibility of reopening the line north of Ripon to Northallerton, but this did not find the same favour and seems a non-starter.

Ripon's strong links with Harrogate and Leeds played a key role in the survey's findings which backed a Harrogate line to link with services from Harrogate to Leeds and York.

The Strategic Rail Authority will make the final decision on whether to fund the project.

Mayor of Ripon, Coun Stuart Martin, a member of a Ripon City Council working group on the reinstatement of the railway, when told the survey's findings, said: "This is fantastic news."

He said the findings would be discussed as soon as possible by the city council.

"This is a real shot in the arm for Ripon, along with all the other encouraging things that are happening here at the moment. We now have to push the idea forward."

Although the survey did not look at the line of the route, people whose homes have been built on, or alongside the track, particularly at Littlethorpe, have expressed concern.

No site has been suggested for Ripon railway station, which was previously in the Ure Bank area, a mile north of the city centre. The line, which originally went on to Northallerton, crossed the River Ure to reach the station on a bridge demolished in 1971.

Adrian Morgan, who started the campaign to return rail services to Ripon in 1987, leading to the formation of the Ripon Railway Reinstatement Association two years later, said he was delighted by the findings.

He recalled: "Nearly everyone was cynical about this when I started the campaign.

"But this is wonderful news. It will put Ripon back on the map. It hasn't been mentioned in English Tourist Board guides because it doesn't have a rail link.

"Returning the railway will help to boost tourism for the cathedral, Fountains Abbey, Newby Hall and Lightwater Valley. I think Ripon has been in decline since the line closed, although the city fathers might not agree with me."

Mr Morgan, a dentist, said potential improvements to the Leeds-Harrogate line could further boost the Ripon project, providing a journey time of 40 minutes from Ripon to Leeds.

Meanwhile he praised the Countryside Agency for helping to fund the study and giving its backing to the project.

In a separate development, the Leeds-Harrogate line is set to receive a boost with the possibility of trains running every 15 minutes rather than the present half-hour timetable. New rolling stock and improved signalling and track are all earmarked for the route.

Coun Ian Galloway, who represents the Littlethorpe area on Harrogate Borough Council, said although no specific route had been suggested, it would cause concern for some residents in the Littlethorpe area along the old route.

But he believed the project could be 15 years away "and who knows, the £40m being talked about now could be £100m then, we just don't know".

Meanwhile Ripon rail campaigners point out that providing a railway comes much cheaper than road building. Ripon's two-mile bypass cost £19m, while the 11-mile rail link could cost £40m.

Alan Beswick, director of the consultants, said although there were more potential trips from Ripon to Northallerton than expected, there were many more south of Ripon.

"And once you get to Harrogate there would be a better service south to Leeds," he said.

Mr Beswick said there was no presumption that any new route would follow the old one. The survey had merely looked at demand.

A previous study had looked at intermediate stations, but a case had not been made for them