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The Northumberland Line

Welcome to the Railfuture page devoted to the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line, a line recently re-named as the Northumberland Line by Northumberland County Council.
LATEST NEWS: Government have committed  £34m to allow for land acquisition, completion of detailed design, and for Network Rail to commence early works prior to relevant planning approvals. A new scheme for raising money from the increased land value that flows from developing a new railway has been devised and could contribute 25 – 30% of the cost of the development. Northern have recently advertised for a Programme Manager who will take responsibility for “delivering a programme of activity which will see the re-introduction of direct passenger trains between south-east Northumberland and the centre of Newcastle.”


Introduction:
Destination Ashington.  Photo by John Brierley.
Destination Ashington. Photo by John Brierley.
There have been many campaigns throughout the United Kingdom to reopen railway lines to passenger traffic. They all take a lot of work and time if they are to be successful, and examples of success are limited. The North East now has its own example of a successful campaign in the form of the South East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG) campaign to bring passenger services back to the line from Newcastle to Ashington. 

The original Blyth and Tyne railway was a network of lines and branches originally built to move coal from the collieries of South East Northumberland to the various ports on the Blyth & Tyne rivers. Passenger services between Newcastle and Ashington were withdrawn in the 1960s








Biomass on the way to Lynnemouth Power Station  Photo by Dave Shaw.
Biomass on the way to Lynnemouth Power Station Photo by Dave Shaw.
The Line 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 until Northumberland Park Metro Station, where it turns north to Newsham. From Newsham it is double track right through to Ashington and Woodhorn and on to its terminus at Lynemouth power station. A single track section also connects Bedlington back to the East Coast Main Line at Morpeth. Since closure to passengers the line has been kept alive by freight traffic – currently in the form of biomass between Tyne Dock and Lynemouth Power Station and, imported through the Port of Blyth, coal on its way to Teesside and alumina to Fort William. 

At Ashington and Bedlington the platforms are still in place, albeit overgrown with weeds and needing remedial work. At Bedlington the station buildings are still intact. At other stations platforms and buildings have been demolished. 



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

The line runs through a major part of the former Northumberland Coalfield and will serve a number of communities that experience multiple deprivation, and have high levels of unemployment and dependence on benefits. Improving the transport links to Newcastle and Gateshead, with connections at Northumberland Park for local business parks shopping centres and the airport, will improve access to jobs by connecting areas of need with areas of opportunity.

Whilst 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 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 Campaign: In July 2004 SENRUG launched their campaign and in December 2005 were supported by local MPs through an Early Day Motion. In January 2007 the North East Assembly commissioned a report into the proposed phased re-opening of the line.  The proposal reached Parliament again in May 2007 when SENRUG organised an online petition to 10 Downing Street which attracts over 1,000 signatures and prompts an Adjournment Debate. May 2008 saw a GRIP 4 Study launched. It was to be paid for by a freight operator but was cancelled when the freight operator’s requirements changed.

SENRUG Charter 2008 at Bedlington.  Photo by John Brierley.
SENRUG Charter 2008 at Bedlington. Photo by John Brierley.
In June 2008 SENRUG organised a charter train which made 3 trips round the line as far as Ashington. One of the trips is reserved exclusively for stakeholders, politicians and the press.

In March 2009 Geoff Hoon (Secretary of State for Transport) toured the scheme and SENRUG presented the case for the re-opening to him. By June 2009 ATOC had expressed support in their “Connecting Communities” report. 

March 2010 saw SENRUG organising a “hustings” meeting prior to General Election and all 3 parliamentary candidates promise to support the scheme and in November 2010 the scheme was included in Northumberland County Council’s Local Transport Plan

June 2013 saw Northumberland County Council launch the GRIP 1 Study with Network Rail.  GRIP 2 followed in October 2015 followed by GRIP 3 in the following year when Northumberland County Council set out an ambitious timescale that would have seen trains running by early 2021.  

Campaigns involve a lot of work over a long period of time. As well as meeting with the people who have the power to make decisions SENRUG didn’t forget the power of the community. In April 2014 they organised a schools competition to commemorate 50th anniversary of closure They asked 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 were taken to Westminster to present their video to their MP. You can watch their video here. The competition provided a great educational experience for the schools and generated significant positive media coverage whist helping to build the support in the local communities.

Campaigning continued and in Feb 2019 Chris Grayling (Transport Secretary) paid a visit to the area and spoke encouragingly about the project and the campaign, September 2019 saw Northumberland County Council (NCC) run a public consultation on their proposals for what they now called 'The Northumberland line' and in October 2019 the line was included in DfT's new Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline and we saw the start of design and development work. £1.5m came from government to support development of Northumberland line project and in May 2020 Northumberland County Council committed a further£10m to the project, and we began to see boots on the ground as survey work and ground investigations began. The draft of the North East Transport Plan indicated regional support for the plan and ideas for the use of the line now appear in other places including the Network Rail Traction Decarbonisation plan – a plan that suggests the need to look, in the longer term, at electrification of the new line.

January 2021 saw Government committing a further £34m to allow for land acquisition, completion of detailed design, and for Network Rail to commence early works prior to relevant planning approvals.

The Treasury sign-off immediately releases the £34million towards the overall project cost of £166million, with further funding to follow once design works are concluded. Providing assurances that this remaining funding will indeed follow the current Rail Minister, Mr Heaton-Harris, has been quoted as saying “In my time as Rail Minister, no project, when it has got as far as this, has fallen. 

In another innovation the project will use the principle of land value capture as a source of funding. There is little doubt that the value of land and property is increased when new public transport infrastructure is built, and the idea of funding transport infrastructure by ‘capturing’ a share of these increased values isn’t entirely new but has always been seen as difficult to achieve in practice. However, Edinburgh Rail (better known as E-Rail), commissioned by Northumberland County Council, have developed a method of doing so. 21 sites that might see a significant increase in value as a result of the investment in the railway have been identified. Negotiations with the owners of these sites are reported to have raised between 25 - 30% of the capital cost of the project. It will be interesting to see how this new source of funding for projects progresses in the longer term. 

SENRUG Charter 2008 crossing River Wansbeck. Photo by Graham Galbraith.
SENRUG Charter 2008 crossing River Wansbeck. Photo by Graham Galbraith.
What do we get for the money?The plan currently being progressed will see the re-introduction of passenger services on the route from Newcastle to Ashington and Woodhorn in a single phase. The new service will  have stations at Northumberland Park (Metro connections), and then Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside, Bedlington, and Ashington. The timetable is planned to operate every 30 minutes each way in peak hours and every hour during off-peaks, with the possibility of a 30 minute service throughout the day. The journey time between Ashington and Newcastle should be around 35 minutes.

Once the first phase is complete and the line is re-opened – what needs to come next?The existing Newcastle – Cramlington – Morpeth service could be extended, via a  re-opened station at Choppington, to Bedlington reopening a route closed to passengers in April 1950

The initial re-opening does not include extending the service to Woodhorn – site of the Museum of Mining and Northumberland Life and a major tourist destination. Once the line reaches Woodhorn it would only take half a mile of new track along an existing alignment to reach Newbiggin by the Sea.

A new spur from Newsham to Blyth Town Centre would be challenging but not impossible. SENRUG believes that this service should be provided by the means of an extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro making joint use of line between Northumberland Park and Newsham – and taking advantage of the fact that the new Metro Cars will be able to run under battery power rather than requiring an OHL facility. Such a service could open up many more possible destinations without the need to change between systems. 

The campaign continues for an additional station at Seghill and for services on the line to stop at Manors – serving the east of the city centre and providing another link into the Metro system.----

Finally, and in the longer term, 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 beyond as well as adding to the potential for the line to be used as a diversionary route at time when the ECML has problems.{DIV}

If you’ve enjoyed reading the above, why not consider joining Railfuture. You can do so at https://www.railfuture.org.uk/join/. When you log in to the Railfuture home page you will see a whole range of information about our work and, from this page, you can link to the North East Branch for details of local activities and campaigns.

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