A RAIL operator has said it would gladly take up the Lakes Line franchise following a successful first week in operation.

On Monday heritage railway company West Coast Railways started a two week experiment running services on the line from Windermere to Oxenholme.

Rail passengers had been left without a rail service following current franchise holder Northern suspending trains to tackle extensive timetabling problems across the north west.

Managing director of West Coast Railway, Patricia Marshall, said the first five days of service had been extremely positive.

She said: "It is working very well. I think we started off on Monday with 600 passengers and were on around 1,300 on Thursday.

"It is no surprise to us that it has gone well. It's just a 10 mile branch line at the end of the day. I really don't know what the issues are with Northern."

The possibility of West Coast taking on the lakes line as the official franchise holder has been raised. Ms Marshall was coy when asked if her company would take up the challenge, saying it "may never happen", but said if they were given the chance to run it in the future investment in its rolling stock would be guaranteed.

The successful arrival of West Coast has been welcomed by Westmorland and Lonsdale MP Tim Farron.

He said: "It’s been fantastic to see how popular the Lakes Line shuttle service has been this week – and it’s definitely sent out the message that the Lakes is open for business. I’d like to thank West Coast Railways and the local rail groups for all their work to get this off the ground – I’ve been proud to work alongside them.

"However, this shuttle isn’t a permanent fix. Northern need to keep their promise to have some trains moving again on July 2, and run their full timetable as soon as possible. But we also need a serious look at the future of the Lakes Line – Northern have seriously let us down, and the line should now be operated by someone who cares about it as much as we do."

At the start of the Northern rail fiasco The News and Star backed a petition set up by Mr Farron calling for the end of Northern's ownership of Cumbria's rail franchises. On Wednesday June 26 we will be with Mr Farron as he presents his petition at Downing Street.