Railway station hopes appear to hit buffers
Hopes that railway stations could be reopened at Belford and Scremerston as part of an improved local service appear to have been dashed.
Northumberland County Council has said there is no evidence to suggest there is a robust business case to support the reopening of these stations.
Stuart McNaughton, the council’s strategic transport policy officer, said: “The county council bid for monies from Network Rail’s New Stations Fund in 2013 to deliver a station at Belford was unsuccessful.
“Network Rail’s review of the business case submission concluded that there were issues that needed to be addressed with the demand forecasts. However, even if these were addressed, the low frequency of train service as well as dispersed population means patronage is likely to be low.
“There was no strong evidence to support the proposed demand at Belford where much of the passenger catchment area overlaps with that of Chathill Station.
“As a result, the application did not meet the criteria of the New Stations Fund of having a business case of medium value for money or greater.
“The council have no current plans to invest further in the Belford Station project or to commence work on Scremerston Station.
“We are committed to making improvements to the public transport network across the county but any significant expenditure needs to be supported by a strong business case and we see there being little prospect of this happening for either Belford or Scremerston stations.”
Mr McNaughton added: “Any proposal to reopen stations, particularly on a key strategic corridor such as the East Coast Mainline, would require extensive consultation with Network Rail and have significant resource complications to progress any scheme through Network Rail’s GRIP process. Although not an issue that can be considered or dealt with as part of the core strategy, discussions can continue with Network Rail and there is nothing to stop schemes such as these being progressed.”
He was responding to a request by Berwick Town Council for information on the prospects of improvements to the rail network in north Northumberland.
The town council is keen to explore the possibilities of station reopenings, particularly in light of the plans to improve local services between Berwick and Edinburgh with new stations at Reston and East Linton.
The county council’s stance has dismayed town councillors but they are keen to keep pushing.
Cllr Eric Goodyer said: “We want to make the case for extending that Edinburgh to Berwick service to Scremerston and Belford. I don’t think they (the county council) have looked at this. They have analysed demand from a Newcastle perspective.”
Cllr Joe Lang said: “Towns that have better services have better opportunities. We should be campaigning for services that enable better connectivity because rail services are game changers.”
Members have requested a further report on their options.
Cllr John Woodman, county councillor for Bamburgh ward, said: “The case to reopen the station just to handle the Chathill train was unfortunately never good enough on its own. The real opportunity comes from a stopping service between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The new Trans Pennine Express franchise hopes to operate such a service from 2019 and this gives us a focus to reopen the station.
“Belford’s bus connections, location as a crossroad between the coast and Glendale and pivotal point for the visitor economy is ideally placed for a new station, along with others currently planned in Scotland on this line. This is something that SENRUG (South East Northumberland Rail Users Group) has been pushing and I’ve been promoting with the council’s strategic transport team.
“What will be interesting, given the additional push for more trains to stop at Chathill, is whether people can unite behind one campaign to improve rail connectivity in north Northumberland.”