Call to back plans for new Northumberland to Newcastle rail link
Rail campaigners are calling on the community to get behind the proposals to bring back passenger services between Ashington and Newcastle.
SENRUG, the group that campaigns for better rail services in south-east and east Northumberland, is asking residents to support the county council’s plans for the Northumberland line, which could see trains running by late 2022.
Dennis Fancett, the chairman of SENRUG, which has been campaigning for the reinstatement of passenger services on this line since 2005, said: “We should grab this opportunity to make a real difference to our local economy and have some rail investment in the North East rather than just London schemes.
“After 14 years of campaigning, this is an opportunity to get something and we are supporting it. It’s a desperately-needed scheme and finally we have a strong chance of seeing it signed off and passenger trains running once again.”
This call comes as Labour in Northumberland has launched a petition over stations that have been ‘dropped’ from what was formerly dubbed the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line.
In June, it was agreed that the scheme was to be included in the North East’s £377million bid for funding from the Government’s £1.28billion Transforming Cities Fund (TCF), with £99million earmarked for the rail line.
A phased approach is being proposed, with four new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Newsham and Northumberland Park (North Tyneside) to be built in the first phase. Stations at Seaton Delaval and Blyth Bebside would come on line over the following two years.
Labour’s concern is that the second phase is reliant on additional funding being found, with the overall project estimated to cost £190million, while claiming that its proposed first phase included Bebside, Seaton Delaval and Woodhorn.
On this front, Mr Fancett said that SENRUG’s backing ‘doesn’t mean to say we are in agreement with the council on every detail’.
“We would have liked more to be included in phase one – as indeed would everyone, including the county council themselves,” he added.
“And we have comments on some of the station designs which we are feeding back, though we all need to recognise that simply reinstating what used to exist doesn’t work in all cases, since the original station layouts no longer meet Network Rail’s current quality and safety standards.
“Nevertheless, our conclusion is that the current phased plan is a pragmatic way of getting something actually delivered. A lot of hard work has gone in to getting us this far and I particularly commend the staff at the county council who are working very hard to meet a number of deadlines.
“We can also reassure the community that once phase one is completed, SENRUG won’t rest on its laurels, but will continue to campaign not just for those stations not included in the initial phase, but for further extensions such as Ashington to Woodhorn and Newbiggin, Newsham to Blyth town centre, Bedlington to Choppington and Morpeth, and the link from Ashington to Alnmouth via Butterwell on the East Coast Mainline.”
Last week, Coun Richard Wearmouth, the cabinet member for economic regeneration, explained that ‘the funding is such that it has to be spent in a time-frame that our engineers feel wouldn’t allow for stations at Bebside or Seaton Valley’ in the first phase and that ‘there is a commitment to step into phase two immediately after the first phase is complete’.