Northumberland’s chance to get some useful transport services

The caption for the accompanying image is: Scotrail local train from Edinburgh at Drem. Will it one day come through Northumberland? Photo by Russell Darling.
The caption for the accompanying image is: Scotrail local train from Edinburgh at Drem. Will it one day come through Northumberland? Photo by Russell Darling.

THE prospect of Scottish independence is beginning to make Northumbrians wonder what the effects will be south of the Tweed.

Will our practical day-to-day links with our neighbours over the border be affected, and if so, how?

My personal memory of Northumberland stretches back about 40 years, to the mid-Seventies, at which time there was a real live possibility that part of north Northumberland would be ceded to Scotland.

This would be the 15th time that Berwick had changed hands.

For many years it remained uncertain whether Berwick really was part of England, to the extent that it was mentioned separately in Acts of Parliament. For example, the Act of Uniformity of 1662 refers to the Realm of England, Dominion of Wales, and Town of Berwick upon Tweed.

It was not until the middle of the 19th century that it was finally established legally that it was part of England so that it became unnecessary to mention it separately.

When preparations were being made for the re-organisation (yet again!) of local government in the early 1970s, postcodes were being allocated, and Berwick was given a Scottish postcode.

In the way that the town had shuttled between England and Scotland frequently for many years earlier in history, Berwick railway station has shuttled between being controlled by Newcastle or Edinburgh.

Berwick station is the railhead for a substantial part of the Eastern Borders as well as north Northumberland.

During the 1970s the local services between Newcastle, Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick, which amounted to several per day, were reduced to the one commuter service each way which still runs now, but only as far as Chathill, though there is some half-hearted talk of a small station at Belford, as that is where the train actually turns.

When these local services in Northumberland were reduced, an enterprising railway manager introduced three services per day between Newcastle and Edinburgh calling at most of the small stations in Northumberland.

They were short trains hauled by diesel locomotives, and the demand was insufficient to cover the costs so that they had to be withdrawn.

Now the line is electrified and Scotrail is the responsibility of the Scottish government rather than the (English) Department for Transport, an interesting possibility has arisen. The operators tendering for the new Scotrail franchise to start in 2015 are being asked to consider extending the semi-local services which run between Edinburgh and Dunbar to Berwick, and even possibly to Newcastle.

Modern electric trains are so much cheaper to operate than the diesel locomotives which were used 30 years ago, and perhaps public awareness of the need is greater now than it was then, that this time such services might prove to be viable.

This is Northumberland’s chance to have some really useful services linking Edinburgh, Dunbar, Berwick, Alnmouth, Morpeth and Newcastle, which are sorely needed, and it is up to us to make representations to our politicians at constituency and county level, to talk to the new Scotrail operator, whoever that will be, and persuade them to respond positively to the Scottish government’s invitation.

Sitting back and expecting somebody else to do something about it will not achieve the object.

l John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport — a Will-o’-the-wisp? (

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