Rail scheme set to steam ahead

TENS of thousands of people could be enjoying new direct trains between south-east Northumberland and central Tyneside in just over four years, as the county council presses Whitehall to help fund the line via a devolution deal.

Restarting frequent, seven-day services to Newcastle on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne route is feasible, according to Network Rail bosses in a new report.

Their verdict was welcomed by council leader Grant Davey, who said: "I'm on record as saying it should be 'full steam ahead' for devolution to benefit Northumberland - and this ABT line is crucial to future jobs and growth across the whole county.

"Although a lot more work needs to be done before trains are rolling again, it's great that Network Rail has given the green light to the latest stage of planning this flagship scheme."
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.

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 a report to the council's economic growth and strategic transport overview and scrutiny committee this month.

Network Rail estimates the line will cost around £195m 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).

Councillor Davey added: "The ABT line will provide numerous benefits for the county and wider region as well as being an extra incentive for employers to relocate here  - and will make getting around so much easier for residents.

"We have already received significant support for the project, regionally and nationally, and I pressed for the government to include financial support for it in any devolution deal. A stronger Northumberland, with devolved decision-making and funding, is central to more jobs, greater opportunities and better lifestyles north of the Tyne."

Councillor Allan Hepple, cabinet member for economic growth, added: "While this is an exciting development for communities in south-east Northumberland, the impact of the ABT line goes much further.

"It is key to unlocking more 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."

Latest research by the Campaign to Protect England argues that small towns can benefit hugely if improved transport opens up access to larger sources of jobs; ABT campaigners believe it would also boost regeneration in communities served by the line.  

The council’s cabinet will discuss moving to the next stage next month.
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