LONG-AWAITED plans to restore passenger train services to Northumberland’s most heavily-populated area remain a better option than extending the Metro into the county, according to a new report.
More than 1,500 people have signed an e-petition calling on Northumberland County Council to work with operator Nexus on bringing Tyne and Wear Metro to towns such as Blyth, Ashington and Bedlington.
Supporters of the petition say a Metro extension would forge closer links between south east Northumberland and the Tyneside/Wearside conurbations, improving access to jobs and training opportunities for local people.
Now a new report to county councillors says discussions with the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority (ITA) and Nexus indicate there are no plans for a Metro expansion into Northumberland – and it would cost more than £100m to do it.
Instead, County Hall officials say the ITA and Nexus support the council’s preferred option of reopening the Ashington Blyth and Tyne freight line to diesel-powered heavy passenger rail services.
Blyth Valley MP Ronnie Campbell said the council’s response to the petition didn’t surprise him.
He said: “I was told by Nexus some time ago that it will be 2030 at the earliest before they will consider extending the Metro system. I believe they would like to bring it to south east Northumberland, but it would be very costly and they don’t have the money.
“I believe there is a demand for train services here and, as we are clearly not going to get the Metro, we have to continue pushing for the other alternative.”
In a report to the county council next week, head of sustainable transport, Mike Scott, says the ABT project would provide direct train connections between Newcastle Central Station and destinations such as Ashington, Bedlington, Blyth, Seaton Delaval/Seghill and Woodhorn. He says this would be less expensive, and provide a more efficient service to passengers, than upgrading the line for use by Metrocars.
The online petition – Bring Metro to South East Northumberland – launched by residents has attracted more than 1,500 signatures since May.
Mr Scott says the better option is to continue with the 15-year campaign to restore heavy train services on the ABT line, where passenger services were axed in 1964.
County Hall officials are progressing feasibility studies with a view to submitting a business case for funding to the Department for Transport in due course. Preliminary engineering studies are under way and work on forecasting passenger demand is nearing completion.
Mr Scott said: ”The alternative of introducing Metro services on the line is not considered as advantageous as the county’s heavy rail proposals. Metrocars need overhead power lines for traction, which would add to the cost of introducing passenger services on the line.”
Mr Scott says a business case for the ABT project will be submitted at the earliest possible opportunity.