Improving the East Coast Main Line could boost the economy by £5bn, North East councils have told Ministers.
The plea for investment came in a joint report by local authorities along the route of the East Coast Main Line, the first time they have joined forces in this way.
Councils including Durham, Newcastle and Northumberland are part of a new body calling itself the Consortium of East Coast Main Line Authorities.
They commissioned an eight-month study which found that economies linked by the East Coast Main Line are worth well over £300bn each year to the UK, with significant potential for growth worth £5bn if rail connections were improved along the whole route.
Furthermore, the predicted economic benefits increase to £9bn if the East Coast Main Line is improved in addition to the eastern arm of High Speed 2 (HS2) being built, allowing high speed trains to connect Leeds, York, the North East and Scotland to Birmingham and London.
In a paper presented to Ministers, the authorities urge Government to ensure “that HS2 services start to serve Leeds, York, the North East and Edinburgh sooner than is currently proposed and that these services are fully integrated with existing ones, to maximise the economic benefits to all areas served by the East Coast Main Line.”
The current plan is for high speed rail services to Leeds to be up and running by 2033. Trains will actually run to Newcastle, but will transfer from the new high speed track on to the East Coast Main Line just north of Leeds, so that they run at standard speeds for the final part of the journey.
Transport Minister Baroness Kramer is considering whether the new network should one day be extended to Newcastle and on to Scotland, but there is no indication when this could happen.
Newcastle City Council is calling for investment in Newcastle Central Station to help the city make the most of the economic opportunities offered by HS2. However, many local MPs have expressed scepticism about the benefits, given that there are currently no firm plans to extend the line into the North East.
Meanwhile, Labour leader Ed Miliband could face a battle with activists over the future of the rail network at the party’s three-day national policy forum in Milton Keynes.
Some constituency parties want a manifesto commitment to renationalise the railways - and point to the success of the East Coast Main Line, which has been run by Government-owned business Directly Operated Railways since 2009, when National Express defaulted on its contract.
But the Labour leadership appears to be pushing for a compromise in which Directly Operated Railways would be allowed to bid for rail franchises in competition with other operators.
Jon Cruddas, Labour’s policy coordinator, writing on blog Labour List last week, said: “We have a bizarre situation where state railways from other countries can bid to run our rail services yet our own Directly Operated Railway (DOR) is unable to bid even to continue running the line they currently operate, the East Coast Mainline. This doesn’t add up.
“Simply accepting the status quo is not an option for Labour. But nor is a throw-back to the days of British Rail. Public ownership did not solve the problem of chronic under-investment in the railways or the lack of long term planning.
“This means answers to how we plan future rail investment when there is less money around. How we drive value for money and innovation.”