£9bn railway boost sparks calls to get line back on track

The former railway station in Ashington.
The former railway station in Ashington.

A CASH injection of £9bn announced by the government this week to improve the nation’s railways has given fresh hope to campaigners calling for the reopening of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line.

A national programme of rail investment announced on Monday by Transport Secretary Justine Greening is set to deliver faster journeys, more seats and more frequent trains.

Although no funds have been allocated to Northumberland as yet, it is hoped that the investment package, including £240m of improvements to the East Coast main line, could see smaller lines such as the Blyth and Tyne track being reopened too.

“We have got the lines. We have got some stations. The only problem on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line is that we have not got any trains,” Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery told Ms Greening in the House of Commons.

Talking to the News Post Leader the day after, he added: “I questioned the minister. I asked where the £9bn investment would be allocated. She said they would be looking at other projects in the region, so we’ve got a meeting this weekend with Northumberland County Council and other interested parties.

“We will be looking once again to the government for assistance with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, which is essential to the economy of south east Northumberland.

“I asked the minister for transport, Norman Baker, a few weeks ago, whether he would be willing to meet a delegation from Northumberland, and we are in the process of putting together that delegation in a project with the county council.

“This announcement happened while we were doing that, so we are really on the ball with it.”

Dennis Fancett, chairman of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group, said: “Any investment in the railways is a good thing, but the scheme is from a national perspective.

“I’m obviously disappointed that there was nothing specific for Northumberland.

“It’s yet another reminder to our local politicians that they do need to progress with the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, making the proposals ready to go.

“There is some progress going on. Some things are happening behind the scenes.

“I hope it indicates that the government are willing to invest in the railway, kick-starting the economy. It’s what we badly need in south east Northumberland.

“The county council has received a demand assessment and is working on the final costing strategy for Network Rail, which will take some months.

“I just wish we were in the position where the scheme was signed off and ready to go and featured in the allocation this week.”

Mr Fancett said he welcomes plans for the electrification of the TransPennine Express route from Liverpool to Newcastle, adding that his group is also calling for services that currently stop at Newcastle to continue to Cramlington and Morpeth.

He said: “This seems preferable to the trains standing idle at Newcastle for 45 minutes, for which the operator pays platform occupancy charges.

“Combined with the existing hourly service from Northern Rail, this would then create an every-30-minutes service at these two stations, delivering a real improvement for south east Northumberland.

“We are still waiting to hear the response to our proposal.”

The Blyth and Tyne Railway was originally built in 1840 to link collieries in Ashington, Blyth and Seghill to the Tyne, later expanding to take in other towns and villages and incorporating the Bedlington line in 1855.

Passenger services to Ashington and Blyth were axed in 1964, but much of the line is still open for limited use by freight trains.