Train operators bidding for the Northern franchise have been told they must support work to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line to passengers.
The Department for Transport has set out a number of requirements for the three companies wishing to take on the franchise — Abellio Northern, Arriva Rail North and Govia Northern — in the Invitations to Tender.
And it specifically refers to them supporting the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne project.
Northumberland County Council, which has committed funding in its recently approved budget to progress the scheme, has welcomed the requirement.
Council Leader Grant Davey said: “This is an exciting project of regional significance and it’s great to see this commitment in black and white to supporting the scheme.”
The South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG), which has been campaigning for the re-opening for ten years, now hopes to see faster progress.
Chairman Dennis Fancett said: “It is encouraging to see that bit by bit we are making progress, but we now want to see the rate of progress increased dramatically.
“We want to make sure the new Combined North East Authority for Public Transport and Rail North use their muscle to speed things up, supporting Northumberland County Council as it advances the project, and resist the temptation to slow things down by further examination of the business cases, all of which have already been completed.”
The group welcomed the inclusion of an evening and Sunday service to Morpeth and Cramlington in the franchise, but is disappointed that they are not extended to Pegswood and Widdrington.
It would like details of the type of trains that will be used, and is calling for TransPennine Express services to be extended to Morpeth and Cramlington, as well as a local service north of Morpeth.
In all, the franchise specifications published by the DfT have proved there is a lot to play for and at last the tide is beginning to turn in favour of rail investment in the north. Northumberland must continue to fight to ensure a fair share of that investment.Dennis Fancett, South East Northumberland Rail User Group Chairman