Disused rail lines in south east Northumberland could play a key role in boosting the local economy, senior transport officials have said.
A major transport study has highlighted a number of schemes which could boost the north east’s economy and help businesses.
Among the potential options highlighted are an extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro system to Blyth and Ashington.
The North East Independent Economic Review Report was carried out by former Transport Secretary Lord Adonis and five senior officials to identify schemes over the next five years to stimulate both productivity and employment growth.
Included in the 36-page report are calls for a bus and Metro strategy to help maximise the pool of talent that can access priority locations for growth.
The report states: “The longer term strategy should be to extend the Metro system to the largest towns not currently on the Metro network, including Washington, Blyth and Ashington.
“All three places are located on or near active or disused freight lines.
“In the interim, the strategy should set out a plan for better express buses – or rapid transit – to all places providing access to jobs from the places that are off the Metro and regional rail network and which it will not be possible to serve by rail in the short/medium term.”
Officials at Nexus, operators of the Metro system, have welcomed the report and said initial talks had taken place about extending the service into south east Northumberland.
A spokesman said: “It is excellent that Lord Adonis has stated the importance of public transport, and Metro in particular, to the future of region.
“We are already supporting a study by Northumberland County Council into the feasibility of re-opening the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne freight line to passenger services.
“This is alongside our own study into the possibility of extending the Metro system into key transport corridors across Tyne and Wear.
“Any future extension of Metro would require government funding to make it become a reality.
“By doing a feasibility study now we will be ready to take the business case to ministers.”
Campaign officials at SENRUG (South East Northumberland Rail Users Group) have long called for the former Ashington, Blyth and Tyne rail link to be re-opened for commuters.
They say former stations at towns such as Ashington and Bedlington remain in tact, while the line could provide a direct and quick access to Newcastle city centre.
Officials at the North East Chamber of Commerce have welcomed the Review, saying it could help shape the region’s economic future and allows the North East Local Enterprise Partnership to make a clear statement on priorities and highlight barriers to economic success.
Chief executive James Ramsbotham said: “The Review must be accompanied by a straightforward action plan, which we can begin implementing to kickstart the faster growth this area is capable of.
“Addressing bottlenecks on the A1 and A19, embedding faster rail connections and establishing a direct scheduled flight to the US are all key if we are to maximise connectivity and reverse decades of underinvestment in north east transport infrastructure.
“Consolidating and investing in public transport networks will make it easier for businesses to access a wider labour pool and reduce reliance on cars.”
Lord Adonis said: “The strengths of the north east are great people, companies, universities, cities, countryside, public and cultural institutions, natural resources and a great location on the exporting edge of Europe. These are phenomenal assets.
“With leadership, innovation and investment, an economic renaissance is possible. Progress in some areas depends on national government.
“But there is plenty of energy and capacity in the north east to create more and better jobs if the region’s strengths are fully mobilised.
“In transport, the priorities should be a north east smartcard, like Oyster in London, promoting easier and cheaper bus use and interchange between bus, metro and train, faster inter-city rail connections; sorting out the bottlenecks on the A1 and the A19 as an immediate priority; and getting a direct flight to the US from Newcastle as soon as possible.”