The Transport Secretary said better commuter links are a ‘no-brainer’, as he took a closer look at proposals to reintroduce passenger rail services in south-east Northumberland.
Chris Grayling MP this morning (Friday, February 8) travelled along part of the route which could connect Ashington, Bedlington and Blyth to the Metro in North Tyneside as well as into Newcastle Central by 2022.
As previously reported, county councillors are being asked to sign off on approximately £3.46million of spending to develop the next steps, with the aim of submitting an outline business case and proposal for the detailed design by the end of the year, and passenger services planned to start in three years’ time.
The council says it is determined to reintroduce direct trains between south-east Northumberland and Newcastle Central, so that thousands of residents a day can be transported along the 20-mile route between Ashington and the city centre.
This is because bringing back passenger services on the current freight line could boost the local economy by up to £70million, with more than 800,000 annual return journeys by 2038.
And during his return journey from Morpeth to Bedlington and Newsham, 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.”
The estimated cost for the entire project is around £190million and the council is keen to tap into government funding, such as the Transforming Cities Fund, to support the scheme.
“The Government’s spending a huge amount of money in and around our cities,” Mr Grayling said. “The Transforming Cities Fund is well over a billion pounds for about a dozen of our leading cities so there is finance there for a project like this. I’m waiting to see the proposal to spend that money wisely in this area.”
Council leader Peter Jackson said: “I think this could be transformational for south-east Northumberland and all the people who live there. We’ve seen in the rest of Tyneside the effect of having a Metro system and how beneficial that can be, and Northumberland has really missed out so far.
“This is our one opportunity to get access to passenger rail so people can access employment, have easy and accessible transport and reduce the congestion on our roads.
“If you look at the billions of pounds being spent on HS2 and other projects in the south of England, in government terms this is chicken feed. We have the plan, we have the business case, we have the real need in south Northumberland, so we just need to get on with it.”
He added that the Transport Secretary is ‘as enthusiastic as we are’ and has ‘thrown us the challenge’ to provide the detail and the business case. “If we do that, I’m pretty confident we are going to get his backing at the end of the day.”
Another passenger on today’s journey was Coun Russ Wallace, ward member for Bedlington Central, who said it would be ‘a huge boost to the area’, particularly in terms of employment as well as reducing congestion on the roads.
Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service