THE Government has no plans to reopen the Leamside line despite a Liberal Democrat election pledge to restore disused train lines.
Tory Transport Minister Theresa Villiers confirmed the news in a Parliamentary answer to Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods.
A long-running campaign has called for the Leamside line, a 21-mile route running from Durham to Tyneside, to be re-opened.
Such a move would improve local transport links, ease congestion on the East Coast Main Line and potentially connect Nissan’s car plant in Sunderland with the Port of Tyne. The project has an estimated price tag of around £70m.
During the election, the Lib Dems set out a scheme to improve and reopen thousands of miles of rail lines and stations – with councils and transport authorities bidding for nearly £3bn switched from the major roads budget.
Lib Dem transport spokesman Norman Baker, now a minister in the Department for Transport, said at the time: “The Liberal Democrats will transform the railways with the biggest expansion since the Victorian age.
“Labour has allowed the railways to wither on the vine and punished passengers with huge fare hikes while more polluting forms of transport have got cheaper.
“All the while, the Tories have been sharpening the axe they will take to the transport budget.”
“High speed rail is hugely important, but it is only part of the 21st century rail network Britain needs.
“Our plans will reopen thousands of miles of track across the country and make our railway great again.”
In the election campaign, the Conservatives promised a moratorium on building on disused rail lines still in public ownership to ensure they are “available” to be reopened.
But Labour MP Mrs Blackman-Woods has now received a downbeat message from Mrs Villiers when she demanded to know what the Government’s plans for the Leamside line were.
Mrs Villiers said: “There are no plans at present to re-open the Leamside line.
“However, there are no plans to dispose of the land occupied by the line.
“The possibility for re-opening in the long term remains open, if running trains on this route is shown to be the best way of meeting regional and local transport needs.”
Speaking to The Journal, Dr Blackman-Wood said: “I believe using the Leamside line would present a good opportunity to increase capacity, especially for freight, on the East Coast Main Line.
“While I am pleased that at least the Government doesn’t intend to dispose of the land, I wish we could have had a more positive response from the minister.”
She added: “The Liberal Democrats in Durham were very keen to support my campaign to get the Leamside line re-opened.
“But when in Government, as we have very rapidly learnt, they have made no positive impact whatsoever on this issue as on so many others.”