Hopes of Berwick to Newcastle local rail service receive boost

A feasibility study to assess the idea of a local rail service between Berwick and Newcastle could be carried out.

Friday, 15th February 2019, 07:33 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th February 2019, 15:48 pm
Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson and Transport Secretary Chris Grayling.

The hope was revealed by Denis Fancett, chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG), following a site visit with Transport Secretary Chris Grayling to discuss reopening the Ashington to Newcastle line to passengers.

“Whilst everyone was there together, I also discussed our aspiration for the local service to Berwick and SENRUG’s proposal for a feasibility study and it looks like we now have informal agreement for this to go ahead,” he wrote on the SENRUG website.

Conversations with senior Network Rail managers also allowed him to stress the strategic importance of the Ashington - Butterwell corridor, added to the Newcastle - Ashington line, as a relief and diversionary route for the East Coast Main Line.

The possibility of re-instating the fourth track between Benton Junction and Newcastle to maximise the potential of using the Ashington and Butterwell lines, creating a four track railway from Newcastle to Widdrington, has been raised.

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This could help to overcome the conflict between high speed inter-city trains and lower speed local trains on the East Coast Main Line, an issue discussed at a rail connectivity event in Berwick.

At the event, Stuart McNaughton, transport policy officer at Northumberland County Council, said: “The Butterwell line, a redundant rail line in private ownership, is fairly distant from Berwick and runs north from Ashington to join the East Coast Main Line. The track has been lifted but the corridor is still in place and there is a long-term possibility for us to reinstate that which potentially gives us the opportunity to have a Berwick, Alnmouth, Ashington, Blyth, Newcastle service.”

Mr Grayling said that the Northumberland line proposal is one of about half-a-dozen projects in the country ‘where there’s a really good opportunity in the short term to bring back into service stations and lines that were lost to passengers in the days of Dr Beeching’.

He continued: “The point about this one is it’s not only going to provide much better commuting links into Newcastle, it also brings transport back to communities up the coast that have lost it and will really benefit from it, and I think it will help generate economic activity and jobs in places like Blyth, so I’m looking forward to see the final proposals coming forward. I think this is a really strong candidate.”

Northumberland County Council has announced proposals for a further £3.5million investment to develop the plans to reintroduce direct trains between south-east Northumberland and Newcastle Central.

Studies show that reintroducing passenger services to the current freight line could boost the local economy by up to £70million with more than 800,000 annual return journeys by 2038.

The council aims to submit an outline business case and proposal for detail design by the end of the year, with passenger services planned for 2022.

Council leader Peter Jackson said: “It was excellent be able to show the Transport Minister exactly what we’re trying to achieve and continue to press for Government support.

“The Government has classed this scheme as being of regional importance in their own Transport for the North proposals and Mr Grayling certainly understood our vision and found it a very informative trip.”

Mike Paterson, Regional Director, Northern, said: “We wholeheartedly support plans to improve the rail network into Northumberland. As the North’s regional and local railway company, we see great benefits to local communities by investing in this expansion of the railway in this way.”