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Ashington Blyth and Tyne

Railfuture supports the SENRUG campaign to re-introduce passenger services on the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight lines, serving an area with a population of around 100,000, high unemployment and poor transport links.

Introduction

Photo of a charter train at a station (showing destination as Ashington) promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line The original Blyth and Tyne railway was never a single route but a network of lines and branches originally built to move coal from the collieries of South East Northumberland to the ports on the Blyth & Tyne rivers. Passenger services were withdrawn in the 1960s during the Beeching era.

However, the line from Newcastle to Ashington then on past the former Woodhorn Colliery to the power station at the former Alcan plant at Lynemouth remains a fully working freight line, as does a branch from Bedlington re-connecting with the East Coast Main Line at Morpeth. Sadly, the tracks to Blyth town centre have been lifted, so the re-opening campaign is known as the “Ashington Blyth & Tyne” line, reflecting what the line could do now, not what it did in the past.

What Is Left Today?

The route leaves the East Coast Main Line at Benton Junction, north of Newcastle. Between Benton Junction and Newsham, the line is single track, running alongside the Tyne & Wear Metro (which stole one of its tracks) until Northumberland Park Metro Station, where it turns north to Newsham. From here, it is double track right through to Ashington and Woodhorn and on to its terminus at the former Alcan works. A single track section also connects Bedlington back to the East Coast Main Line at Morpeth, often hosting steam charters such as The Flying Scotsman. There is also a working freight spur to North Blyth.

Photo 1 of 3 of a charter train promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line whilst travelling

The station at Ashington remains intact with both platforms in situ but overgrown with weeds. There is even level access to both platforms. At Bedlington, the southbound platform remains, again overgrown with weeds. Bedlington never had a northbound platform. At other stations, platforms have been demolished and would need to be re-built.

What Are We Seeking To Do?

One of the key Railfuture campaigns in the North East (shared with local rail user group SENRUG) is to reinstate passenger services on the freight-only Ashington Blyth railway line - this map shows the route Railfuture and local affiliated campaign group SENRUG want to see the re-introduction of passenger services from Newcastle to Ashington with intermediate stations at Northumberland Park (Metro connection), Seghill, Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside, and Bedlington.

Beyond Ashington, we want to see passenger services extended to a new station at Woodhorn (there never was a station on the original network here, which is why we use the phrase “new”). The Museum of Mining and Northumberland Life at Woodhorn is now a major visitor attraction, and the station here would serve this and also act as a Park & Ride for the smaller communities nearby.

After the core route has been opened, there are further links and stations that can be added.

What Is The Business Case?

The business case for re-opening the line is based on the re-invigoration of Ashington and other communities in South East Northumberland.

The former Wansbeck District Council area has 12.7% unemployment rate and 21% in receipt of key government benefits. Improving the transport links to Newcastle and Gateshead, with connections at Northumberland Park for Cobalt and Silverlink, will improve access to jobs, connecting areas of need with areas of opportunity.

Whilst we accept that most households now have access to a car, there remain many 1 car households where 2 or more people are seeking work. Young people in particular often cannot afford to run their own car and are dependent on good public transport to find jobs.

Good public transport and access to work also creates inward investment. People who already have a job but looking to set up home will find places such as Ashington, Bedlington and Blyth more attractive as they can get to their place of work easily. Such people will support local businesses, creating further employment in the area.

The case for creation of a new station at Woodhorn is based both on its function as a Park & Ride location serving villages and communities around Ashington, and also on bringing off-peak leisure traffic from Newcastle and further afield to the adjacent Woodhorn Experience – A museum of mining and Northumberland life and a major tourist attraction.

The re-opened line will also give access to the wider rail network making it easier to reach places such as York, Leeds, Birmingham and London. This makes the communities served by the line more attractive locations for businesses, plus giving access to a wider range of jobs in locations such as Sunderland or Durham.

The new passenger service will also support further housing development, reduce traffic congestion on the A189 Spine Road / A19 corridor, and help achieve CO2 emission reduction targets.

The business case has been tested in the Market Appraisal and very robust Demand Assessment Reports commissioned by Northumberland County Council.

What’s Happened So Far?

The following is a brief chronology of the progress of the campaign which SENRUG commenced in July 2004. Some key dates have been estimated, or events (such as commissioning a report and the final report being published some months later) have been compressed into single activities.

  • Jul 2004: SENRUG launches campaign
  • Dec 2005: Early Day Motion signed by the regions MPs
  • Jan 2007: North East Assembly (now defunct) commissions a report into phase 1 of a proposed phased re-opening of the line
  • May 2007: SENRUG organises an online petition to 10 Downing Street which attracts over 1,000 signatures and prompts Adjournment Debate held at Westminster
  • May 2008: GRIP 4 Study launched to be paid for by freight operator, but subsequently cancelled when freight operator’s requirements change.
  • Jun 2008: SENRUG organises a successful charter train which makes 3 trips round the line as far as Ashington. One of the 3 trips is reserved exclusively for stakeholders, politicians and the press.
Photo 2 of 3 of a charter train promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line whilst travelling
  • Mar 2009: Secretary of State for Transport Geoff Hoon tours the scheme and SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett presents the case to him
Dennis Fancett of SENRUG presents the Blythe & Tyne rail reopening scheme to then Secretary of State for transport, Geoff Hoon, at Woodhorn in March 2009. Photo acknowledgement: The Journal
  • Jun 2009: Support received from ATOC in its Connecting Communities report
  • Mar 2010: SENRUG organises “hustings” meeting prior to General Election and all 3 parliamentary candidates promise to support the scheme.
  • Nov 2010: Scheme included in Northumberland County Council’s Local Transport Plan
  • Nov 2011: Closure of Alcan Smelter at the end of the line is announced creating fears line might be mothballed if freight trains stop, but Network Rail say they still expect freight on the line to increase.
  • Jun 2013: Northumberland County Council launch GRIP 1 Study with Network Rail
  • Apr 2014: SENRUG organises Schools Competition to commemorate 50th anniversary of closure, asking schools to create a 5-8 minute video setting out the business case for re-opening the line. The winning team from Hirst Park Middle School are taken to Westminster to present their video to their MP. The competition generates significant positive media coverage.

  • Oct 2015: Northumberland County Council proceed to GRIP 2.
  • Oct 2016: Northumberland County Council proceed to GRIP 3, setting out an ambitious timescale saying trains could be running by early 2021.

What's the Favoured Option?

The plan currently being progressed is for:
  • The re-introduction of passenger services on the route from Newcastle to Ashington and Woodhorn in a single phase.
  • The new service would have stations at Northumberland Park (Metro connection), then Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside, Bedlington, Ashington and Woodhorn. SENRUG and Railfuture are additionally campaigning for a station at Seghill (between Northumberland Park and Seaton Delaval) as well.
  • A service every 30 minutes each way in peak hours and every hour during off-peaks (Northumberland County Council are also considering the option of a 30 minute service throughout the day).
To achieve this service pattern, a 2.45 km passing loop would be required on the single track section somewhere near Seghill, and the double track section needs to be extended south of Newsham for 1 km.

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Why Heavy Rail and Not Metro?

Some people have argued it would be better to extend the Tyne and Wear Metro services to Ashington through a spur at Northumberland Park. The difficulties with this approach are:
  • The overall running time to Ashington would be too long (because of the number of intermediate stations on the Metro route between Newcastle and Northumberland Park) and this means the business case would not stack up
  • It would require electrification of line which means extra cost
  • It would require extra Metro rolling stock
  • It would not be integrated with the national rail network – there would be difficulties in buying through tickets from Northumberland to other UK stations
On the other hand, a heavy rail solution:
  • Would allow journey times from Ashington to Newcastle in 25 minutes
  • Would only require minimal upgrading. SENRUG’s 2008 Charter proved trains could start running as soon as stations are re-built
  • Would allow existing diesel rolling stock to be used
  • Would allow eventual mainline electrification (diversionary route for inter-city trains). NB Although Metro and diesel heavy rail trains can run on the same tracks – and do between Newcastle and Sunderland – running Metro and electric heavy rail trains on the same line would require the Metro to use technology capable of operating on both 1500v DC and 25Kv AC - which is a possibility for replacement of the existing Metro rolling stock, see the North East Combined Authority’s MetroFutures brochure)
  • Provide an integrated timetable and through ticketing with all National Rail destinations.
Northumberland County Council is proceeding with the heavy rail solution although this has been misreported in the press as a Metro extension from time to time. However with possible devolution in future, the heavy rail service could carry the Metro brand.

Once the Line’s Re-Opened, What Else?

  • In the event the initial re-opening does not include extending the service to Woodhorn, SENRUG would want to see this added as soon as possible afterwards as the next phase.
  • In the event the initial re-opening does not include a station at Seghill, this should be added as soon as possible afterwards.
  • After this, we want to see the existing Newcastle – Cramlington – Morpeth service extended to Choppington and Bedlington, interconnecting with the Newcastle to Ashington and Woodhorn line at Bedlington.
Photo 3 of 3 of a charter train promoted by SENRUG to campaign for a passenger service on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne railway line whilst travelling
  • A further extension of the main trunk route from Woodhorn to Newbiggin would require half a mile of new track along existing undisturbed track bed.
  • A new spur from Newsham to Blyth Town Centre would be challenging but not impossible. Two routes are possible, the initial passenger route or the old freight route to Blyth port. Track has been lifted on both routes. SENRUG believes restoring passenger services on the old freight route, with an intermediate station at Cowpen Road, would be more viable.
  • There is scope to consider utilising the privately owned freight line from Ashington to Butterwell to a new north facing junction on the East Coast Main Line south of Widdrington. This would allow extra capacity for services to Widdrington, Alnmouth and possibly further, via Ashington.

How Can You Support Our Campaign?

First and foremost, we’d like people to join Railfuture and SENRUG. Quite simply, the more people we speak for, the louder our voice will be heard.

Whilst the majority of our members are individual citizens (including partner and family members), we also have corporate membership available for Town & Parish Councils, other statutory organisations, local business, chambers of commerce and Trade Union branches.

Click the 'Join Railfuture' button on the left or go to the SENRUG website to see current SENRUG membership rates and apply.

From time to time we can advise our members of specific opportunities to give support, as for instance when SENRUG organised an online petition to 10 Downing Street.

Railfuture and SENRUG also urge people to contact their local authority Councillor and MP to ask them to support the scheme. It may well be the case that your local representative is already supportive, but he or she needs to know how many people support him / her in supporting this campaign.

A Brief History of The Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line

(information kindly supplied by Alan Fendley)
The lines we wish to see re-opened to passenger trains started life as part of the Blyth & Tyne Railway, which was incorporated in 1853. Ashington was originally a branch that was added later.

The lines we wish to see re-opened to passenger trains started life as part of the Blyth & Tyne Railway, which was incorporated in 1853. Ashington was originally a branch that was added later.

The Blyth & Tyne was never a single route but a complex network of interconnecting lines built to get coal from the collieries of South East Northumberland to the ports on the rivers Blyth and Tyne. However, Blyth & Tyne managers soon saw the potential for carrying passengers as well, just as we hope those in authority will again today.

The Blyth & Tyne railway was both successful and extremely innovative. It used an integrated system of stationary, semaphore and lamp signalling. Smoking was banned on all its trains, 100 years ahead of its modern day counterparts.

The Blyth & Tyne was incorporated into the North Eastern Railway in 1874 and eventually of course in to British Rail. Prior to our 7th June 2008 charter, the last passenger train to Ashington was 2nd November 1964. The last train to serve Choppington and Hepscott was 3rd April 1950.

Photo gallery of stations on the line


 

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