Scottish rail chiefs could be asked to help reopen a key Northumberland line if Metro bosses will not expand faster, a new council chief has said.
Grant Davey said his biggest transport concern is to get the Ashington Blyth and Tyne railway line opened up to passenger services.
The Labour council boss said he would focus on the county’s rail links ahead of long-term issues such as dualling the A1.
Coun Davey said he is increasingly concerned council efforts to find an estimated £60m for the line will be undermined by the slow pace of other rail providers.
As such, Coun Davey said, he intends to start meeting with rail providers such as ScotRail. The Scottish operator has recently returned to commuter stops on the Waverly line north of the border, experience Coun Davey said could make them an ideal partner.
He made the transport pitch one of his key priorities for his new administration, alongside ideas such as moving council departments back to high streets, and embarking on a new era of house building.
Coun Davey said: “Obviously the A1 is a big issue for us, and if the money can be found we want to be ready to go with it, but the A1 has needed money for a long time and not got any closer to being dualled. It’s not something we can do ourselves, you have to get the Highways Agency and the Government to back it.
“So it’s a priority if we can work on it but for now the real focus has to be on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line. It is already in use for freight and we think we can make the funding numbers work.
“With Lynemouth included, some 50% of our population is in that wider South East Northumberland area, we need those people to have access to Tyneside.
“So we have Network Rail looking at this, to see what the options and cost are, but that might not be fast enough. We also need to start looking now at who can run a service, and I think Scot-Rail are an obvious potential partner.”
Coun Davey said he was interested in the pre-fabricated station platform model which could help cut costs.
Northumberland is among seven councils set to form a combined authority, merging their roles on transport and economic growth.
As part of that, the traditional boundaries for potential Metro expansion will be withdrawn, meaning rail owner Nexus has to think of wider interests.
“We could see this as a Metro tram expansion,” Coun Davey said. “But that might not be fast enough, I’m prepared to commission other services rather than wait for Metro to catch up with us.”
Work has now started on putting together a funding package of up to £60m to bring back passenger services between Ashington and Newcastle, which were axed as part of the 1960s Beeching cuts.
The aim is to run an hourly service, extending to every half hour at peak times.
Bernard Garner, Nexus director general, said: “We have been supporting Northumberland County Council in developing a business case for funding to re-open the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne route to passengers, exploring all possible options.
“Councils in the North East are now working closely to develop strategic rail opportunities like this, which cross local authority boundaries, and we are very much part of that.”
We need to start looking at who can run a service – Scot-Rail are an obvious potential partner