£1.5million for Northumberland-to-Newcastle rail project will help heal 'scars' of railway closures
The Government has announced £1.5million of funding to develop proposals to reopen the train line from south-east Northumberland to Newcastle.
It is one of the first named projects of a £500million investment fund aimed at reversing the controversial Beeching cuts of the 1960s, which is being launched by the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps.
Mr Shapps, who visited the line at Blyth earlier this month, said: “Many communities still live with the scars that came from the closure of their local railway more than five decades ago. Today sees work begin to undo the damage of the Beeching cuts by restoring local railways and stations to their former glory.
“Investing in transport links is essential to levelling up access to opportunities across the country, ensuring our regions are better connected, local economies flourish and more than half-a-century of isolation is undone.”
As part of this, Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris visited Bedlington Station on Tuesday, January 28, where he announced the cash to support the return of passenger services to the Ashington-Blyth-Tyne line.
“This is an exciting moment as we look to revitalise our railways, reconnect communities and reinvigorate our country,” he said.
“Local MPs, councillors and community leaders are the greatest champions of their local lines and we want to work closely together to ensure the projects with the greatest potential have the support they need.”
Also known more recently as the Northumberland Line, the scheme would connect Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth and Seaton Delaval with Central Station as well as to the Metro at Northumberland Park in North Tyneside.
Under Northumberland County Council’s plans, it could be running by late 2022 and mean journeys between Ashington and Newcastle of just over half-an-hour.
The authority’s Conservative leader has described the funding boost as ‘fantastic news’, but the Labour opposition is concerned that ‘this pitiful offering doesn’t come anywhere near the amount needed’.
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “This is fantastic news which gives us even more confidence we can deliver this vital project for the people of Northumberland in the next few years.
“It’s the first time anyone apart from the council has contributed towards the scheme and shows a clear commitment from the Government to taking the Northumberland Line forward.
“The funding is being used for completion of our outline business case which includes detailed work into overall scheme costs as well as detailed studies into station locations along the route.”
Under the previous Labour administration, the council funded the initial Governance for Railway Investment Projects (GRIP) studies, while members agreed early last year to spend £3.46million to develop the next steps – an outline business case and proposal for the detailed design.
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.
Coun Susan Dungworth, leader of the Labour Group in Northumberland, said: “While we welcome any investment in the Northumberland Line, this pitiful offering from the Tory Transport Secretary doesn’t come anywhere near the amount needed.
“The Northumberland Line was launched under Labour and we have spent millions getting this project to its final stages. The £1.5million promised does not even scratch the surface and will take this project no further forward. What we need is a serious cash injection from the Tories to guarantee the train line’s success and viability.
“Dribs and drabs of funding from Westminster and token visits from Tory Ministers is getting us nowhere. We need proper investment in the Northumberland Line and we need it now.”
A series of public drop-in events, which featured details of the line and the stations, took place across the towns in question last September.
A phased approach is being proposed, with four new stations at Ashington, Bedlington, Newsham and Northumberland Park 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 even if the TCF bid is successful, the second phase is reliant on additional funding being found, with the overall project estimated to cost £190million, while also claiming that its proposed first phase included Bebside, Seaton Delaval and Woodhorn.
SENRUG, the group that campaigns for better rail services in south-east and east Northumberland and which has been calling for the reinstatement of passenger services on this line since 2005, is asking residents to support the county council’s plans.
Chairman Dennis Fancett said last year: “We would have liked more to be included in phase one – as indeed would everyone, including the county council themselves.
“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.”
Mr Shapps’ predecessor as Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, also signalled his support for the scheme, when he travelled along part of the route on a specially chartered train last February.