Government confirms £34million for Northumberland Line - Rail Minister says he's 'lucky to be reopening train lines'
The Department for Transport (DfT) cash will help to ‘rapidly progress’ plans to reopen the line between Ashington and Newcastle, which closed to passengers in 1964 as part of the Beeching cuts.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I’m very lucky to be a Rail Minister who’s actually reopening rail lines and this is a culmination of a ton of work by the county council, local MPs and teams in my department as well.
“We’ve been crunching processes because the Prime Minister is keen to deliver on the promises we made in our General Election manifesto about levelling up communities and we want to see trains running on this railway in 2024.”
The investment will fund land acquisition, completion of detailed design, and for Network Rail to commence early works prior to relevant planning approvals.
The Treasury sign-off immediately releases the £34million towards the overall project cost of £166million, with further funding to follow once design works are concluded.
Providing assurances that this remaining funding will indeed follow, Mr Heaton-Harris said: “In my time as Rail Minister, no project, when it has got as far as this, has fallen.
“This gets us right the way up to the finish line. We really want to be running trains on this line by 2024. I’m very confident that we’re going to get there.”
He added: “The Prime Minister, who gave me my job, gave me some pretty straightforward instructions on how we deliver on our levelling-up agenda, so we are probably correcting some of the mistakes of the past.
“This will be one of the first demonstrations where people will see spades going into the ground and see the proper benefits, because lots of these infrastructure projects take a significant amount of time.”
Also known as the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line, there will be intermediate stations at Bedlington, Blyth Bebside, Newsham, Seaton Delaval and the existing Metro station at Northumberland Park.
Alongside the six new stations, the scheme, which is projected to deliver economic benefits of up to £470million, will upgrade 18 miles of track, and create three new footbridges plus new signal locations.
Northumberland County Council’s leader, Glen Sanderson, said: “This is absolutely fantastic news and means we can now finalise our plans to deliver this transformational project for both Northumberland and the wider region.
“Along with our partners, we’ve done so much work to get the scheme to this stage and the Government is clearly convinced this is a project that needs to happen.
“With trains running through our county into the heart of Newcastle every half-hour, this will provide a massive boost in terms of opening up education, housing and investment.
“It will also have a positive long-term environmental impact, helping with the move away from cars to greater public transport use and cutting congestion in bottleneck areas.”
He added: “We will continue to work with DfT and Network Rail in advance of submitting the full business case in the autumn for release of the final tranche of funding.”
Investment welcomed by MPs
Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy said: “This is brilliant news and is a huge step forward in our ambitions to reinstate passenger rail services to south-east Northumberland including three stations in Blyth Valley.
“Stations at Bebside, Newsham and Seaton Delaval will provide a direct and quick link into the centre of Newcastle and onto the Metro network, which will give residents so many more options to travel around the region.
“This project has huge support from residents, and I am delighted that the Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has once again provided backing at the highest level.
“The work of the county council should also be recognised with Cllr Richard Wearmouth overseeing the detailed studies that have been carried out in the last couple of years, which has allowed the Government to allocate this funding.”
Mr Shapps added: “When I visited Blyth Valley last year, I saw for myself the huge potential this line has for restoring connections to communities who have lost out.
“I want to pay tribute to Ian Levy who has campaigned tirelessly in Westminster to make sure this project continues to make progress.
“His work will of course help communities to be reconnected with jobs and better links to family and friends, so I look forward to seeing the line restored not just for the freight that it carries at the moment, but for passengers too.”
Another two of the stations – Ashington and Bedlington – are in the constituency of Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who also welcomed the funding.
“While this progress is welcome it is also long overdue,” he said. “The campaign to get passenger trains back on the line has been ongoing for decades and has been a key part of my work as MP for Wansbeck as it was for my predecessor Denis Murphy, and the recently retired Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell.
“The funding provided is a positive step towards getting passenger trains back on the line, but it is important that it is clear this is only the beginning, and far more funding will need to be committed in the future from central government to see the project through.
“Everyone knows by now that getting this done would be a massive boost for our local economy that has been neglected now for decades. I will continue to do everything I can as an MP to keep the process moving as quickly as possible.”
‘Dynamic economic growth’
While the Northumberland Line has a great deal of support in the county and wider region, not everyone is fully convinced of the benefits, with one of the concerns being that it simply offers a route to take workers and therefore the economic benefits out of the county into Tyneside.
Mr Heaton-Harris said: “Where we have connected places with railways in the past, economic benefits have come through both people who have been able to live a new community and commute somewhere and jobs and businesses have been created in the communities themselves.
“While I can completely understand that concern, in practice, there are a lot of benefits that flow to the communities in economic developments.
“And there’s big plans for this part of the world anyway so we are seeding the infrastructure hopefully for some quite dynamic economic growth.”