The re-opening of the passenger line between Northumberland and Newcastle has been identified as a top ‘quick win’ by the Institute of Public Policy and Research (IPPR).
It comes after Transport for the North published its Strategic Transport Plan in February, which was an outline business case for Northern Powerhouse Rail and an investment pipeline.
The IPPR has since carried out in-depth research into the proposed schemes – working with a wide range of stakeholders and prioritising those which cross local transport authority boundaries or have a wider impact on the North.
Putting the Northumberland to Newcastle line in number one position, the IPPR states: ‘This project would bring many social and economic benefits to the North East, and is a realistic proposal that should be taken forward through the next stages.’
The report adds: ‘The quick wins we selected are not the only projects that need to be prioritised, they just represent particularly good examples and strong candidates for prioritisation.’
This view echoes that of Northumberland County Council, which last month announced a further £3.5million investment to develop the plans to reintroduce direct trains between south east Northumberland and Newcastle Central.
Studies show that reintroducing passenger services to the current freight line could boost the local economy by up to £70million, with more than 800,000 annual return journeys by 2038.
Commuters and shoppers could travel between Ashington and the heart of Newcastle in as little as 35 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.
County council leader Peter Jackson said: “It’s fantastic that a leading organisation like the IPPR has identified re-opening this line as a priority and its findings very much reflect what we’ve been saying.
“The IPPR clearly recognises the wider economic importance of this scheme and we will continue to make the case for continued investment in our great county.”
The council is aiming to submit an outline business case and proposal for detail designs for the scheme by the end of the year, with passenger services planned to commence in 2022.