Campaigners battling to have a passenger railway line re-opened in south east Northumberland have welcomed news that it could be a step closer to become a reality.
Northumberland County Council has announced it is funding a Network Rail report to look at re-opening the Ashington Blyth and Tyne Freight line to passenger services.
Network Rail are being commissioned to look at the potential to re-open the line for passengers and freight transport – a project that could cost up to £60m.
Campaigners at SENRUG (South East Northumberland Rail Users Group) have long called for the line to be re-opened to help commuters get to and from Newcastle.
SENRUG chairman Dennis Fancett said: “We welcome this move.
“Originally we didn’t have any support from the County Council at all, but we have been vigilant, articulating the economic and regenerative benefits of the scheme at every opportunity.
“At the same time, we have sought to work constructively with the local authority, and over the last few years we have seen a sea change in approach, and acknowledge the considerable preliminary work the council has undertaken prior to this step.
“Network Rail will now complete a GRIP stages 1 to 3 study on the scheme which should recommend the preferred technical solution and associated capital costs.
“Important as this step is, we still have some ongoing concerns – critically, there is a need to ensure Network Rail does not over-engineer the scheme and make it so expensive that it no longer costs in.
“This is, after all, a fully working, maintained operational railway.”
The council has allocated £750k to fund further studies and scheme design.
A funding package is currently being put together in order to secure the future of the scheme.
Discussions are also being held with developers as potential sources of funding.
Council leader Grant Davey said: “We are now a step closer to making this a reality.
“Securing the funding is a major challenge, but I believe this scheme is vital to help open up access to employment for people in the south east of the county.
“An improved transport network will encourage the growth of Blyth and Ashington as key hubs for new development and secure inward investment in the area.”