THE Government was urged last night to “urgently” approve £300m plans to link up the North East.
Members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority called on Treasury bosses to ensure finance for an essential Metro upgrade is handed over before the election.
They also renewed calls to improve links between Teesside and Tyneside by re-opening the Leamside line.
It would cost around £70m to reopen the 21-mile line, from Durham to Tyneside, which would allow slow freight trains to be diverted away from the East Coast Main Line and allow passenger trains to run more quickly.
It would also enable passengers to travel between the two urban centres, via Sunderland, in under an hour.
Both the Metro cash and the Leamside plans are seen as key components for the region as it seeks to make the most of its economic potential.
Metro bosses have already handed control of the rail service to a German company after ministers ordered that the contract be put out to tender as a condition of the £300m improvement fund. But despite meeting all the conditions, the region has seen the timetable for payment delayed as the issue becomes stuck in Government committees.
Peter Wood, who sits on the Tyne and Wear transport group, last night called on ministers to ensure civil servants completed the final sign-off.
The Sunderland councillor said: “From our point of view, we are very anxious that the Government signs up and says they are fully behind Metro reinvigoration.
“We have done all we have been asked to do, in terms of market testing and bringing in new operators.
“We have jumped through all the hoops that the Department for Transport has asked us to go through.
“We think it is only reasonable that the Government meets its end of the deal and confirms its commitment to handing over this money.
“We know the current financial climate is difficult, but I cannot imagine a more important example of capital transport investment than this.”
Mr Wood said the members of the Tyne and Wear Integrated Transport Authority were committed to the Leamside reopening.
“We still need to produce a proper business plan for this,” he said.
“But it is clear the entire region would benefit from this investment, both from a passenger point of view thanks to an express service, and through the ability to change where we send freight goods.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “We have agreed to invest between £290m and £350m for the renewal of track, stations, and other structures from 2010 to 2019, as well as a continuing operating subsidy over the same period.
“This represents an unprecedented level of commitment and longer term certainty for the system.
“This should enable Nexus to make the sound long-term planning and investment decisions that are needed.”
A Nexus spokesman said: “We are in the final stages of talks with Government to agree funding for our ‘Metro: all change’ programme, including our plans to invest £300m modernising the system over the next decade, while at the same time securing long-term revenue support to meet Metro’s year-to-year running costs.
“We are on target to begin Phase Two of our modernisation programme as planned after 1 April 2010, at the same time as the concession to operate trains and stations on our behalf begins.”