Connecting the North East

Source: PSE April/May 2019

Cabinet member for economic regeneration at Northumberland County Council Richard Wearmouth outlines the plans to reintroduce passenger services between Ashington and Newcastle.

The reintroduction of passenger services on the existing freight-only line between Ashington and Newcastle has been an aspiration of the county council for many years.

There are countless benefits in bringing this line back to its former glory, and there’s a willingness not just from the council, but also from government and the many communities who’d benefit, to make this happen.

As an example, we recently had a train run along a section of the line to coincide with a visit by the secretary of state for transport Chris Grayling. The numbers of people who came out of their homes to watch the train go by, waving and taking photos, was a snapshot of the enthusiasm we all share for the scheme.

From a more strategic perspective, the reintroduction of passenger service accords with key local and regional policy in terms of promoting economic growth across south-east Northumberland.

Studies show that reintroducing passenger services to the current freight line could boost the local economy by up to £70m with more than 800,000 annual return journeys by 2038.

The Northumberland Line would directly serve communities along the A189 corridor (one of our key trunk roads), improving connectivity within the area and supporting many of the emerging employment opportunities in Blyth, Ashington, the rest of south-east Northumberland, and beyond our county boundaries to Cobalt Park and Newcastle city centre.

It will also provide a sustainable transport option by rail to the greatest concentration of jobs, retail and leisure opportunities in Tyne and Wear, and Newcastle in particular, as the regional capital for commerce and business.

Over the past couple of years, the scheme has really begun to gather a head of steam – there are endless puns when talking about railways! Our foundations for significant economic growth are in place and improved connectivity will allow us to build on this opportunity.

The emerging Strategic Outline Business Case for submission to the Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline (RNEP) process indicates a positive benefit-to-cost ratio for the scheme.

In the the coming months our work will also align with the requirements for the forthcoming Transforming Cities Fund (TCF) bid, for which the north east is preparing a strong submission for Tranche 2 of the fund.

We have to be honest and we know there is a long way to go. There is a need to maintain momentum with the development of the scheme and to plan for the next stage of development through the RNEP Process – Stage 2: Develop Stage.

To this end, we’ve recently agreed a further £3.5m towards this next stage which will include design work, business case refinement, a detailed highways impact assessment, and a range of engineering and ecology work.

So with the right funding in place, which includes securing financial contributions from the private sector, a fair wind and everyone pulling together, by the early 2020s commuters and shoppers could speed between Ashington and the heart of Newcastle in as little as 35 minutes.

It’s very ambitious, but we’re an ambitious council and we firmly believe this aspiration could soon become a reality.


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