Are £2.5bn plans for eight new North East railway lines 'pie in the sky' or 'rational argument'?
The huge proposals include bringing trains to places like Washington for the first time in decades, reopening mothballed lines, and creating a new link to Newcastle Airport
Hopes of opening a raft of new railway and Metro lines across the North East have been branded “pie in the sky”.
A vision to radically upgrade the region’s public transport infrastructure by 2035, most notably through eight train line extensions across Tyne and Wear, Northumberland, and County Durham, is due to be adopted by council leaders next week. Those proposals include the long-awaited reopening of the Leamside Line, extending the Tyne and Wear Metro to new areas including Washington, and a new East Coast Main Line link to Newcastle International Airport.
But turning any of those plans into reality would require major government investment and it is thought that the eight extension proposals would cost in the region of £2.5bn. The new Rail and Metro Strategy, which will come before the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) next Tuesday, has been met with scorn from Newcastle’s Liberal Democrat opposition, coming at a time when local bus services are being slashed and there are serious fears about the long-term funding of the Metro. Coun Thom Campion, the party’s transport spokesman, said: “At a time when ticket prices keep rising and the level of service offered keeps falling, local leaders should be focussed on delivering immediate improvements for commuters in the north east, not pie in the sky plans that do nothing but distract from the current crisis on our railways.”
The criticism angered Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, who said that constraints on the North East’s existing railway network was “strangling” the region’s potential. The Labour figurehead, who chairs the JTC, urged the Lib Dems to “get in line” with improvement plans backed by political leaders of different colours from around the area. A map of how the North East's rail network could look in 2035. (Image: Transport North East)Coun Gannon told the Local Democracy Reporting service: “It is regrettable that the Liberal Democrats are saying these things, which are 100% against the consensus that we have across the region. I would request that they look at the issues again and appreciate that we are tackling the current crises that we have with bus services, Metro reliability, and so on. “We are addressing all those issues and that is not negated by the work we are doing to seek substantial new investment in our rail and Metro systems.” He added: “I am not saying we should have all these things [rail extensions] because I am biased towards the North East. I am saying it because I can see the real economic benefit. “There is a cost-benefit analysis that says it would increase income to the government and change people’s lives across our region substantially. We have a very good case to make. “Yes it would be a lot of money, but I don’t think it is pie in the sky. It is a very carefully costed, rational economic argument.”
The rail strategy also includes proposals for new Metro stops at the Silverlink and Cobalt business park, new rail services in the West End of Newcastle, more trains in underserved parts of Northumberland, a new service connecting Consett to Newcastle, and the reopening of the freight-only Stillington line to passenger services.