Campaign for rail link builds up steam

Local people and businesses are being urged to pledge their support for plans to restore passenger rail services to a Northumberland town where the last trains ran more than 40 years ago.

Local people and businesses are being urged to pledge their support for plans to restore passenger rail services to a Northumberland town where the last trains ran more than 40 years ago.

Ambitious moves to re-introduce train services to Bedlington Station by 2009 have picked up a head of steam since a technical feasibility study recently gave the idea the green light.

Now consultants acting for partners behind the project have recommended that local people and businesses should be surveyed to assess the extent of support for bringing back the town's passenger rail service, which ended in the mid-1960s.

Yesterday Wansbeck Council urged locals to throw their weight behind the campaign, claiming it will help bring massive benefits to the district. The North-East Assembly and the South-East Northumberland Rail Users Group (SENRUG) are leading the bid to open regular train links between Bedlington Station and the East Coast Main Line service at Morpeth.

It is hoped that could lead to the eventual restoration of passenger services on the whole of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne freight line with several stops in south-east Northumberland.

Consultants called in to carry out a feasibility study of the Bedlington Station-Morpeth link claimed last month it could be done using the existing track, signalling and rolling stock - but with new platforms and park-and-ride facilities at Choppington and Bedlington Station costing just over £4m. They say the service could carry up to 85,000 passengers a year and would support the regeneration of the Wansbeck area as well as cutting road traffic. As well as a public survey, the consultants have recommended that Network Rail and Northern Rail should be asked to support the proposal and that potential funding should be identified for the estimated £750,000 annual operating costs.

Yesterday Coun Alyson Wallace, Wansbeck's cabinet member for environmental services, called on local residents to get behind the rail revival plans.

"Neighbours and people I meet daily are telling me how much they are looking forward to the railway working again. Although this is not as ambitious as the original proposal for reopening the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne service, this link into Bedlington would connect Wansbeck to the national rail network.

"We need support for further work to be done in relation to the development of the project because, if our aim is to get our residents to and from work, increase access to employment and enable people to visit our area easier than at present, then the numbers forecast to travel by rail would be even higher than envisaged."

The proposed link, along a line still used for freight services, would take advantage of the fact that Northern Rail trains currently sit in sidings for 15 minutes after calling at Morpeth before starting on their return journey to Newcastle.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer