Capacity to increase rail service levels

SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett is pictured at Morpeth Railway Station. Picture by Simon Williams.
SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett is pictured at Morpeth Railway Station. Picture by Simon Williams.

A new study of the East Coast Main Line (ECML) between Berwick and Newcastle suggests there is capacity to increase train service levels.

The Network Rail report also reveals the potential to increase line speeds up to 140mph and drive down journey times by one-and-a-half minutes.

However, upgrades to the power supply for electric trains and infrastructure improvements would be required to achieve this.

The findings are further ammunition for campaigners calling for a local rail service between Berwick and Newcastle.

The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG) wants to see the Newcastle to Morpeth service extend to Berwick – calling at all local stations, including Widdrington and Acklington.

It believes inter-city train companies are unlikely to call at Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick because it makes journeys longer. However, it acknowledges that new passing loops would need to be built to accommodate the different speeds of trains on the line.

Dennis Fancett, SENRUG chairman, said: “The local trains can go close to the maximum speed allowed on the line. The issue is that because they need to stop at all the stations there is a time penalty of around three minutes per station.

“There are already some passing routes but to get local services to Berwick, there would need to be some more so we would like to see a feasibility study to see whether local services could be fitted in to all the new requirements like Trans-Pennine Express in 2019 and First Open Access in 2021.”

The Network Rail report, out for consultation now, states ‘For this section of the ECML route, the priority for managing demand will be to enable sufficient capacity for commuter journeys to and from Newcastle.

‘To do this, a range of service options would be possible, such as using long-distance trains and adding extra capacity to existing local services.

‘With long sections of railway running through remote countryside, maintainability and weather resilience are key issues for this section of the route.

‘One area of particular concern is traction power (electricity) supply for trains.’