Funding has been secured for a feasibility study into the possibility of running a local rail service between Berwick and Morpeth.
Rail campaign group SENRUG wants to see the existing Newcastle to Morpeth service extended on to Berwick.
The aim is to have an hourly service each way calling at Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington, Almouth and Chathill, plus the eventual re-opening of the former stations at Belford and Beal, and possibly elsewhere.
However, the first step is to establish whether there is enough space on the line for local trains to run and if not, what would need to be done to make the service possible. The study will also include a high-level market appraisal plus outline indicative costs for the proposed new stations.
Funding for the study is being provided jointly by Northern Railway and Northumberland County Council, with a small contribution from SENRUG.
Northern’s award came from its Seed Corn Fund, which is available for station adopters and community rail partnerships wishing to pursue ideas for improvements at stations or on routes in their locality, and followed a strong application from SENRUG, which was then matched by the local authority.
Coun Richard Wearmouth, the council’s cabinet member for economy, said: “The council supports the aspiration to see a rail service developed through the north of the county. This has the potential to help revitalise communities and better exploit our tourism and leisure sectors.
“I know this project is strongly backed by county councillor colleagues.
“We are grateful to SENRUG for putting this proposal forward and have been happy to contribute financially to make sure we gather the information needed to identify if this idea can be developed further.”
SYSTRA, an international transport consultancy with more than 50 years of experience in the UK, has been selected to manage the study.
Project manager James Jackson said: “We are delighted to have won the contract for this study and look forward to working closely with SENRUG and the other stakeholders over the next couple of months. We will bring our significant experience of feasibility studies and new service appraisal to the project and will build on our experience of a similar project looking at local services between Berwick and Edinburgh.”
Dennis Fancett, SENRUG chairman, said: This campaign is designed to help those living north of Morpeth, as well as overcoming the six-hour gap in the timetable that any Morpeth resident wishing to travel north to Berwick currently faces. Some of the capacity on the East Coast Main Line should be reserved for local services for local people.
“Whilst this study is just a first step in what could be a very long road towards a service starting, it will provide critical initial information, allowing the authorities to evaluate the next step, and feed in to the next franchise renewal.”
SENRUG’s funding application received letters of support from 10 parish councils or station adoption groups, as well as from Berwick MP Anne-Marie Trevelyan.
Mr Fancett added: “We hope that, by continuing to work together as a community, we can finally reach the position where north Northumberland has a fit for purpose local rail service.”