East Coast Main Line clogged with services as capacity reached - North East chiefs call for investment so region can have rail links it needs

A transport chief has warned that the North East is unlikely to have all of the train services it needs due to a lack of investment in a vital regional route.

Wednesday, 21st October 2020, 7:37 am
North East leaders say more investment is needed to give the region the rail services it needs.

Tobyn Hughes, managing director of Transport North East, said that there is a ‘growing issue’ on the East Coast Main Line (ECML).

“All of the region’s lobbying stems from the fact that the route hasn’t had sufficient investment in a generation now and it hasn’t got sufficient capacity to take the number of trains that are needed by the region,” he told the Tuesday, October 20, meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC).

“A pressure is coming over the next year or so where the number of trains planned to utilise that route will be in excess of the amount of capacity available.

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“There will be further information coming as the rail industry grapples with this issue, but it’s unlikely to lead to a satisfactory outcome for the region, because we won’t have as many services as we would like to as many places.”

The committee chair, Cllr Martin Gannon, also the leader of Gateshead Council, referenced a proposal by LNER before Covid-19 about introducing a third train to London each hour, which could result in a Transpennine service to Manchester having to be dropped.

“What is happening in terms of those discussions?” he asked, adding: “I want to re-emphasise the point that it’s ridiculous and outrageous that to talk about increasing services to London, we have to take off a direct service to Manchester.”

Mr Hughes responded: “That is exactly the issue that is being grappled with by the rail industry.

“It’s unclear what level of input is being sought from the Joint Transport Committee and local authorities, because I don’t think there’s an established process for them to be treated as consultees in this matter.”

He suggested that the committee write a letter to Network Rail and the other parties involved.

Cllr Gannon said: “It’s almost like Sophie’s Choice. Do you want a train to London or do you want a train to Manchester? I want all of them and that means investment in the East Coast Main Line.

“I do think we should have some formal input into that decision-making process, so I would like to see representations made.”

The JTC report to the meeting noted that an interim report in July on the Government’s Integrated Rail Plan (IRP) confirmed that improvements to the ECML are being assessed as part of the review.

It added: ‘Members in our region have made it clear that the North East wants to see credible, timely and properly funded plans to upgrade the ECML between York and Newcastle included to ensure our region is properly linked in to the high-speed rail network as part of the IRP.

‘It has also been stated that the economic benefits of HS2 Phase 2b can be significantly improved if HS2 services run on to Scotland via the North East on the ECML north of Newcastle.’

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