Also known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, the project seeks to restore passenger services in the south-east of the county, connecting to Newcastle Central. The target is for trains to start running in early 2023.
The stations would be at Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval and the existing Metro station at Northumberland Park, which will require new rail platforms and pedestrian access.
As previously reported, last summer, a screening opinion, in order to check if a full environmental impact assessment (EIA) is required and which precedes planning applications, was submitted Northumberland County Council, as well as North Tyneside Council – as Northumberland Park is in the borough.
The design uses, with the exception of a four-mile length of the East Coast Main Line, the existing freight-only line, which last carried passengers in 1964.
Both of the local authorities concluded by September last year that an EIA would not be needed as the ‘proposed development would not be likely to result in significant environmental effects’.
Now, a new screening opinion has been submitted as ‘some components of the scheme have altered, as well as the extent of the land which is required’, as the detailed design ‘has evolved’.
The latest cash injection for the project – a total of £10million, including £1.5million from the Government’s Beeching reversal fund – was signed off in February in order to move onto this detailed design phase.
Changes to the scheme, as set out in the new screening document, include reserving additional land for future car parking – to provide for potential growth up to 2039 – at the stations proposed at Blyth Bebside, Ashington and Seaton Delaval.
Also, the station at Bebside was to the north of the level crossing on Front Street, but the proposed station would now be located to the south of the small housing estate, Heather Lea, off Front Street.
Three level crossings are now likely to be closed: Newsham, with Laverock Hall Road to be diverted over the rail line on a single-carriageway bridge and the station for Newsham located at the former crossing; Chase Meadows (Blyth), to be replaced by a footbridge; and Hospital Land (Ashington), to be replaced with a footbridge or underpass.
Finally, if the services are provided under a concession (where holders are paid a fee to run the service) as opposed to a franchise model, there may be the need to include a light maintenance depot (LMD).
The report notes that it is likely that this LMD would be Network Rail’s depot at Heaton in Newcastle.
‘However, the operation of the scheme may require a bespoke LMD,’ it adds. ‘Network Rail and rail freight operators have ownership and interests in the rail sidings at both Furnace Way and at Cambois.
‘Both sidings have direct access from and to the Northumberland line. As such they are being considered as a potential location in the event that an LMD is required and forms part of the scheme.’
Last week, council leader Peter Jackson said that work to reopen the line could start ‘in a matter of months’.
Speaking at a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee, he said: “The Northumberland Line would be transformative to the whole area and our county, but it’s also a regional project and I’m very proud it’s actually getting nearer and nearer to being a reality.
“We could have spades in the ground in a matter of months on that one.
“What’s coming together is a coherent package going to the Government and hopefully we will be successful.”