Next stage of ambitious rail plans approved

11 Oct 2016

The next stage of ambitious plans to reintroduce direct trains between south-east Northumberland and central Tyneside have been approved by councillors.

Passenger trains could be transporting thousands of residents a day in just over four years along the 20-mile route between Ashington and Newcastle city centre.

Northumberland County Council’s Cabinet welcomed Network Rail’s latest study which confirmed that restarting frequent, seven-day services to Newcastle on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne (ABT) Line is feasible.

Reintroducing passenger services to the current freight line could boost the local economy by up to £70m with more than 380,000 people using the line every year by 2034, according to the report to Cabinet.

Commuters and shoppers could speed between Ashington and the heart of Newcastle in as little as 38 minutes, with several new or rebuilt stations along the route linking towns to key areas of employment, training and leisure attractions as well as providing transport links across the wider region and the UK.  

It is also expected that visitor numbers into Northumberland will vastly increase once the line is opened up.

The line would connect to the existing Metro system and include secure waiting facilities, parking and connections to cycling and walking routes.

Welcoming the Cabinet approval, council leader Grant Davey, who said: "We are committed to making great places even better and the ABT line is crucial to future jobs and growth across the whole county.

"While there is still some way to go until passenger trains are running again it’s great to have cross party support and be able to give the green light to the next stage of planning this flagship scheme."

Network Rail’s initial estimates are the line will cost around £191m and the council has so far committed £5m for detailed development work on the project - £620,000 on the latest phase, known as GRIP 2 (Governance for Railway Investment Projects).

The next stage (GRIP 3) involves assessing and selecting the most appropriate option that delivers the council’s requirements and establishes the scheme can be delivered at the right cost.

While trains could be running by early 2021, detailed design work could start in October 2018, with construction getting underway just four months later.

Councillor Davey added: "The ABT line is a major economic initiative for the region and North of Tyne. Linking skills with job opportunities and creating a transport infrastructure that enhances worker mobility is key to our plans to drive sustainable economic growth.It will also be an extra incentive for employers to relocate here  - and will make getting around so much easier for residents.

"We have already received significant backing for the project, regionally and nationally, and I will continue to press for the government for ongoing support as the scheme goes forward.

Councillor Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth, added: "The impact of the ABT line goes much further than just south east Northumberland - its creation is key to unlocking further investment and will make it easier for local people to access the skills, training and education they want and need to make the most of their talents.

“Reports have concluded that the local economy could benefit by up to £70m from this scheme and developing an efficient and sustainable transport network is crucial to this process.”