THE eventual re-opening of a mothballed North East rail line looks to be more likely after an MP’s meeting with Rail Minister Tom Harris.
City of Durham MP Roberta Blackman-Woods said last night she has “forced the Department for Transport to accept that there is a potential future for the line.”
But that future is unlikely to be before 2019.
Dr Blackman-Woods’ meeting with Mr Harris came after the Government indicated that no reassessment of the route was planned despite experts saying the 21-mile link from south of Durham to Tyneside would divert freight off the East Coast Main Line, allowing quicker and more frequent passenger trains to use the route
She said: “I arranged to meet the Minister because I was worried that the Department was not fully aware of the importance of the reopening of this line to regional rail and to the potential rail freight depot at Tursdale in my constituency.
“By identifying the problem areas in the North East, such as congestion on the A1 and the lack of train paths on the East Coast Main Line, we can demonstrate that the Leamside Line would provide a good alternative route and could help relieve these problems.
“While it is certainly true that we are looking long-term rather than short-term at the reopening of the line, I am pleased that the Rail Minister has been so helpful and I hope that all regional stakeholders get involved in making the case strongly for the reopening of the Leamside Line.”
Despite the MP’s optimism, regional transport bosses are disappointed by Network Rail’s prediction that re-opening the line would not be considered until 2019 at the earliest – and possibly not until 2036.
The line, which runs through Belmont, Fencehouses and parts of Washington and Gateshead, was mothballed in 1992.
Bernard Garner, director general of transport operators Nexus, said: “We are disappointed that there is not a firmer and earlier commitment to re-instating the Leamside line, which offers great potential for regional and commuter trains and freight traffic.
“This would improve connections between Tyneside and the Team Valley, bring rail services to modern-day Washington for the first time, and relieve pressure on the East Coast Main Line.”