Details of a new East Coast Mainline (ECML) timetable that will come into force in May 2022 were announced last week, which will increase the number of trains between Newcastle and London from two to three per hour – with a faster journey time.
But there is a heavy price to pay for the boost in connections to the capital, due to capacity restrictions on the stretch of railway between Newcastle and Northallerton.
The frequency of trains between Newcastle and Manchester, via Durham and Darlington, will be halved from two an hour to just one.
The number of trains to London from Berwick and Darlington will be cut, while plans to increase the frequency of services between Teesside, Sunderland, and Newcastle have been postponed.
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Under the proposals put out for public consultation last week, Grand Central will increase its Sunderland to London trains from five to six each day – but LNER’s early morning and late night trains between Sunderland and London will be scrapped entirely.
One area that will benefit from the changes, however, is Chester-le-Street, which will get a train each hour instead of every other.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon told the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) on Tuesday that the new timetable was “almost like a disaster scenario for the North East” and “significantly hampers the economic prospects of major centres of population”.
He added: “I am doing my best not to get annoyed. We are investing in Sunderland station, there are major announcements about investment in Darlington station – all to watch the trains drive past?”
North East leaders have been pressing the government to commit to reopening the disused Leamside line, which runs between Pelaw in Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham, to free up capacity on the congested ECML by allowing slow-moving freight trains to be diverted.
Doing so would also restore train services to towns like Washington for the first time in decades and pave the way for a major expansion of the Metro system, but Coun Gannon said that “sometimes it feels like we are saying the same thing over and over and the resources aren’t available”.
Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council, called the proposed new timetable “very frustrating” and said it sends the “wrong message at the wrong time”.
Coun Gannon added after the meeting: “We think that the proposed East Coast Main Line timetable for May 2022, now out to consultation, is a major step backwards for the region.
“In order to free up space for faster and more frequent trains to London, some trains serving Berwick, Durham and Darlington will be sacrificed and the region’s links to the North West will be cut back. Furthermore Sunderland is proposed to lose its direct LNER service to London. This feels very imbalanced.
“These proposals are bad for the region and we will be saying so in our consultation response. The government and the rail industry should concentrate their efforts on improving the East Coast Main Line – including reopening the Leamside Line – so that rail links to all destinations can be improved.”