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Government criticised over state of the East Coast mainline

Sunderland Civic Centre
Sunderland Civic Centre

Transport bosses have accused the Government of neglecting one of the North East’s most important transport routes.

Months after financial issues with the current Virgin Trains East Coast Mainline franchise became apparent, there is still no certainty over its future.

At a meeting of the North East Combined Authority’s (NECA) Transport North East Committee at Sunderland Civic Centre on April 19, members expressed their frustration at the situation.

Nick Forbes, the panel’s chairman and leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “From our point of view it’s really problematic.

“We rely on the East Coast as our main route for local traffic and for our connectivity to London and the South.

“The government seems to have taken its eye off the ball with regards to what improvements it needs for the East Coast.”

According to a report prepared for the committee, in February the Department for Transport (DfT) admitted the franchise was due to ‘run out of money and will not last until 2020’.

There are no doubts about the continued day-to-day running of the route, which connects Sunderland, Newcastle and Durham with London and Scotland.

However, there are concerns about infrastructure improvements and commitments for new services, particularly for Sunderland.

Coun Forbes has written to the DfT reminding it of its promise to provide 3,100 extra seats on the route at peak morning times by 2020, shorter journey times and £140 to improve trains and stations.

He told the meeting: “I went back and had a proper look at what the government said when they awarded the franchise to Virgin East Coast.

“There were quite a lot of improvements included, so I thought it fair to write to the secretary of state [for transport] to ask where we are with those improvements.

“I’ve had a very anodyne letter back saying a lot has been achieved.”

He added: “It’s important that we continue to keep government under pressure for something that is important to our economic success as a region.”

James Harrison , Local Democracy Reporting Service