The next train could arrive soon

IT’S full steam ahead for the next stage in plans to bring back railway services to a north Northumberland village.

But a council boss has warned that the project at Belford is currently too expensive and savings will have to be found as the scheme progresses.

Northumberland County Council has now received the results of a preliminary costing exercise in advance of a full GRIP (Governance in Railway Infrastructure Projects) 4 design study, which alone will cost the council a six-figure sum.

It revealed that the project would cost £1.5million in its current design, but the GRIP 4 study will be commmissioned.

Mike Scott, head of sustainable transport at Northumberland County Council, said: “An independent costing exercise has now been completed.

“The report shows that it would cost around £1.5million to build the station itself, its access road and car parks to their current design.

“This is not affordable in the current climate, so the challenge that the council will set itself in the GRIP 4 study is to reduce this cost considerably to fit the funding envelope available.

“We will work in partnership with the parish council, local businesses, landowners and of course the rail industry to achieve this.

“The GRIP 4 study will be commissioned and commence in the spring of 2012.”

Geoff O’Connell, chairman of the Belford Rail User Group, has been campaigning to get the station back into use for more than a decade.

“GRIP 4 is the major study which we have been waiting for,” he said.

“It’s being started now, which is great progress because this is the largest of any of the hurdles left to clear.”

However, he said that the £1.5million figure was ‘breathtakingly out of proportion with what is needed’, pointing out that the access road needs to be in keeping with a rural railway station rather than a major highway.

GRIP is the system that Network Rail uses to manage and control projects that enhance or renew the national rail network.

In February 2010, the scheme to build a platform at Belford station to connect to East Coast Mainline services received funding from the Department for Transport.

The GRIP 4 study involves Network Rail developing the idea before creating a detailed design (GRIP 5) and commissioning the project (GRIP 6).