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: - Updated April 4th. A lot has been happening in the past few weeks. Monday 6th March finally saw Government confirm that work to allow passenger services on the Northumberland Line will be completed. A few days later we saw an announcement to the effect that passenger services will start in August 2024. Work on the track and stations started some months ago but the final funding package had not been confirmed and we also saw reports about the difficulties in building parts of the required infrastructure in an area that has many old mine workings that lead to real risks of subsidence unless suitable, and time consuming, remedial work is carried out. The successful SENRUG campaign to re-open the line for passenger services, a campaign energetically supported by Railfuture, started 18 years ago. The scheme will now cost in the region of £166m which includes associated road improvements and station car parks, but Northumberland County Council estimate the projected benefits to the local economy to be around £470m. The campaigning work doesn’t stop here and both SENRUG and RFNE will continue to campaign for further developments on the line including:
• Extending the Tyne Valley - Morpeth Service to link with the Northumberland line at Bedlington using the existing freight line and adding a new station at Choppington.
• An extension of the Northumberland Line from Ashington to Woodhorn and Newbiggin by the Sea by using a mix of the existing freight line and new track laid on the alignment of the old line into the seaside resort.
• New stations including, in the first instance, Seghill.
• Dualling the remaining single track sections of the line to improve reliability and capacity.
• Building a line directly into Blyth Town Centre on the alignment of the previous track and then using this to provide a Metro Service, making use of the ability of the new Metro Stock to operate using battery power between Newsham and Northumberland Park, directly to the Airport. This service would greatly improve access to the Airport from both South East Northumberland and from the Tyne and Wear Coast. It could also improve links from North Northumberland to the Airport by establishing an ‘interchange’ station at Benton East where the Metro crosses the East Coast Mainline.
• An extension north from Ashington to restore the link to the ECML and an improved junction at Butterwell – a junction that would open the possibility of improved freight and passenger links to North Northumberland and Scotland.
• A light rail shuttle service from Ashington to improve public transport access for people living in the area or working for the new battery plant and other workplaces at Cambois and North Blyth.
• We will also be taking a close interest in both the timetable and the proposed integration of the ticketing system with the Metro service.
The good news doesn’t stop with the re-opening of the line. Transport North East have suggested to us that services coming from Ashington could be extended, via the Durham Coast and a re-opened Leamside line, to provide a direct connection between South East Northumberland and areas to the south of the Tyne. This sort of service would open up a lot of new employment opportunities to people on both sides of the Tyne. Without this link journeys between the two areas involve changing from train to metro and/or bus, with the associated time penalty on the whole journey. In the past there have been suggestions all local trains should terminate at Newcastle - where people could then catch another train/metro/bus to their final destination. This idea even reached to point where we were seeing proposals to terminate all the Tyne Valley services at Newcastle instead of continuing, as some of them do now, to either Morpeth or to Sunderland and Teesside. It is nice to know that our proposals for cross regional services seem to be gaining some traction and that we could be seeing the idea of a rail network in the area, as opposed to a set of individual services, being properly considered by those in power.


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.

The Line Today

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 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. 

The north side of the Port of Blyth is accessible from both the south, via West Sleekburn Junction, and from the north via Marchey's House junction just to the south of Ashington

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 several communities that experience multiple deprivation and have high levels of unemployment and/or dependence on benefits.
There is all party agreement on the benefits that the re-opening will bring in terms supporting economic growth, regeneration and community development in Northumberland and the surrounding regions by providing new and improved transport links for local people and businesses. The new service will improve access from towns such as Ashington and Blyth to employment hubs like Newcastle, as well as opening up new opportunities for leisure, education and travel. The new service will offer a seamless transfer onto Tyne and Wear Metro at Northumberland Park. It will also provide a real incentive for potential employers to relocate to and invest in the local area. It will also help to encourage people out of their cars and onto cleaner, more sustainable forms of transport
Whilst most households now have access to a car, there remain many 1 car households where 2 or more people are seeking work. In particular many young people cannot afford to run their own car and so 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.

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. Twenty one development sites that might see a significant increase in value as a result of the investment in the railway have been identified and negotiations with the owners are ongoing. Whilst details are not as yet in the public domain there are reports that substantial sums will be raised once the developments actually take place. It will be interesting to see how this new source of funding for projects progresses in the longer term.

What do we get for the money?

As well new stations at Northumberland Park, Seaton Delaval, Newsham, Blyth Bebside, Bedlington and Ashington the Northumberland Line will also see 18 miles of track upgraded with several new crossings, passing loops, and bridges.

SENRUG Charter 2008 crossing River Wansbeck. Photo by Graham Galbraith.
SENRUG Charter 2008 crossing River Wansbeck. Photo by Graham Galbraith.
Northern, who will operate the service and have already appointed a project manager, expect to offer two trains per hour on weekdays and Saturdays between 6am and 7.30pm, with an hourly service after 7.30pm and on Sundays. The journey time between Ashington and Newcastle should be around 35 minutes.

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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