Ahead of the proposed reintroduction of passenger services on the Northumberland line, Northern ran special rail services travelling on part of the line.
With a view to reopening the line to passenger services in early 2024, there will be 29km of track upgraded and six new stations constructed – at Northumberland Park, Seaton Delaval, Newsham, Blyth Bebside, Bedlington and Ashington.
The scheme, which was first proposed by Northumberland County Council, will be funded through the Government’s Restoring Your Railway Fund, which offers development funding to explore options to restore lost rail services connections to local communities.
The Department for Transport provided £34m earlier this year to help deliver detailed design and preparatory works which, subject to funding for the delivery of the full scheme being confirmed by the Government and approval of the recently submitted Transport and Works Act Order (TWAO), will allow for the reintroduction of regular passenger services between Ashington and central Newcastle, with several stops along the route.
Cllr Glen Sanderson, Leader of Northumberland County Council travelled on the special service this week. He said: "It was fantastic to experience first-hand one of the journeys that hundreds of thousands of people will soon be able to enjoy and benefit from.
"Passenger services on the Northumberland Line will provide a huge economic boost in South East Northumberland and beyond, improve transport links, attract more visitors, and support growth sectors. It will also help to improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions, contributing greatly to our climate change targets in Northumberland.
“This is just one of the exciting projects taking place in the county which will benefit our residents, business and most importantly our environment for years to come."
Currently, the Northumberland line is partially used by freight trains, with the introduction of passenger services back onto the tracks aimed at further stimulating and supporting regional economic growth, regeneration and community development in Northumberland and the surrounding regions.
It will provide new and improved transport links for local people and businesses, as well as improving access from towns such as Ashington and Blyth to employment hubs like Newcastle, alongside opening up new opportunities for leisure, education, and travel.
Kerry Peters, Regional Director at Northern, said: “Bringing new rail services to the north east as part of the Northumberland Line is really exciting and we’re honoured to be able to provide those services for all the communities based along the route.
“Rail plays a vital role in the economy of the North of England, and we’re delighted to be able to play our part in opening up new leisure and business opportunities for the region.
“We’re currently working on proposals for the first timetables for the Northumberland Line and, initially, expect to offer and two trains per hour on weekdays and Saturdays between 6am and 7.30pm, with an hourly service after 7.30pm and on Sundays.”
Kerry Peters, Regional Director, Northern
Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee, added: “The Northumberland Line will be a wonderful asset for local people and helps us take further steps to encourage people out of their cars and onto cleaner, more sustainable forms of transport.
"This development demonstrates that the region has major ambitions, restoring passenger rail services has enormous benefits and this scheme is one of the major interventions which has been identified and agreed by our region in the North East Transport Plan.
“The line will offer enhanced opportunities for education, employment and leisure for the people of the North East and enhances public transport connectivity, offering a seamless transfer onto Tyne and Wear Metro at Northumberland Park.”
Work on the Northumberland line reintroduction is expected to begin next year, with Morgan Sindall set to construct the new stations.
Network Rail is now also working on its own plans to upgrade the track and infrastructure to support the reintroduction.