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Capacity to increase rail service levels

Chathill is the end of the line for local services north of Newcastle, even though the trains turn around at Belford.
Chathill is the end of the line for local services north of Newcastle, even though the trains turn around at Belford.

A new study of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between Berwick and Newcastle suggests there is capacity to increase train service levels.

The Network Rail report also reveals the potential to increase line speeds up to 140mph and drive down journey times by one-and-a-half minutes.

However, upgrades to the power supply for electric trains and infrastructure improvements would be required to achieve this.

The report, out for consultation now, states: ‘For this section of the ECML route, the priority for managing passenger demand will be to enable sufficient capacity for commuter journeys to and from Newcastle.

‘To do this, a range of service options would be possible, including using long-distance trains, adding extra capacity to existing local services or by introducing new services.

‘With long sections of railway running through remote countryside, maintainability and weather resilience are key issues for this section of the route.

‘One area of particular concern on this section of railway is traction power (electricity) supply for trains. Here the physical challenges of connecting into suitable power supplies at remote locations and tackling the effects of extreme weather events (especially high winds) on overhead lines are considerable.’

The findings are further ammunition for campaigners pressing for a local rail service between Berwick and Newcastle.

The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) wants to see the Newcastle to Morpeth service extended to Berwick, calling at all local stations, including new ones at Belford and Beal.

It believes inter-city train companies are unlikely to call at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick because it makes journeys longer.

However, it acknowledges that new passing loops would need to be built to accommodate the different speeds of trains on the line.

Dennis Fancett, SENRUG chairman, said: “The local trains can go close to the maximum speed allowed on the line. The issue is that because they need to stop at all the stations there is a time penalty of around three minutes per station.

“There are already some passing routes but to get local services to Berwick there would need to be some more so we would like to see a feasibility study to see whether local services could be fitted in to all the new requirements like Trans-Pennine Express in 2019 and First Open Access in 2021.”

Coun Richard Wearmouth of Northumberland County Council said: “Delivering additional local services into the Northumberland coast is very important and we are working proactively with SENRUG and others to deliver on that.