Re-open Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line

SENRUG’s 2008 Charter Train at Newcastle - John Brierley

What Is Proposed?

Re-introduction of passenger services on the fully operational and maintained freight line between Newcastle and Ashington, with intermediate stations at Northumberland Park (Metro Connection), Seghill, Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside and Bedlington.

Beyond Ashington, the working freight line continues and passes alongside the Woodhorn Museum of Mining and Northumberland Life, a major tourist attraction in the region. A station adjacent to the museum would serve as a Park & Ride facility for commuters from the outlying villages of Newbiggin by the Sea, Linton, Lynemouth and Ellington, as well as creating an off-peak demand for visitors to the Museum.

Blyth would be served by stations at Newsham, on the outskirts of the town, and the station at Bebside.

However the scheme now being progressed by the Council does not include a station at Seghill which the Council believes is not commercially justified. SENRUG disputes this (for reasons please see The Case For A Station at Seghill), but has agreed to wait until the line is actually opened and will then ask the Council to revisit this. Furthermore, to align the DfT’s “Transforming Cities” funding criteria, the Council has advised that the initial opening (phase 1) will only include stations at Northumberland Park, Newsham, Bedlington and Ashington, though it remains committed to then adding Seaton Delaval and Bebside as phase 2, as soon as possible after the initial re-opening. SENRUG has pragmatically agreed to this phased approach as a way of at least getting part of the full scheme operational as quickly as possible.

Why?

South East Northumberland is a former mining area which suffered economically with the closure of the mines and has never fully recovered. Unemployment rates are significantly above the national average and the area is economically depressed with many of the jobs that do exist being part time and / or at minimum wage levels.

Re-opening the Ashington Blyth & Tyne line would regenerate region by providing access to employment in Newcastle and beyond, as well as places such as Cobalt Business Park served by the station at Northumberland Park. The line would connect areas of opportunity with areas of need.

Good transport connections including links to London, Leeds and Birmingham through connecting services at Newcastle would make the area more attractive for industry. People who already have jobs would find that Ashington and the other communities the line serves become attractive places to live due to easy commuting to Newcastle, and so would bring new money into the local economies.

SENRUG acknowledges that most households have access to a car; but in many households 2 or more people are looking for employment but there is only one car. Young people in particular can not normally afford their own transport and need good public transport links for work or college.

The line would essentially be a commuter railway and relieve growing road congestion on the A189 / A19 corridor. Additionally however the station at Woodhorn would create a leisure market and bringing visitors to the area from further afield, creating an off-peak flow which is a luxury few commuter lines enjoy.

How?

As this is a fully operational working freight line, re-introduction of passenger services should be quite straightforward and much easier than other re-opening campaigns where new track would need to be laid.

However, the southern section of the line is single track, and to achieve the service frequencies SENRUG believes would be optimum (30 minutes during peak hours and hourly outside peaks), a dynamic passing loop would need to be built somewhere near Seghill, allowing trains to pass without slowing down.

The former stations at Northumberland Park, Seghill, Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside, Bedlington and Ashington would need to be re-built. These would be low cost, unstaffed stations without station buildings. Both of the original platforms remain in tact at Ashington, as does the southbound platform at Bedlington (there never was a northbound platform at Bedlington). Northumberland Park is a working Metro station but a platform and overbridge would be needed for the Network Rail line. A new station would be needed at Woodhorn.

What’s Happened So Far?

SENRUG started campaigning for the re-opening of this line in 2004. Our understanding has always been that for the campaign to succeed, we need to have the sponsoring local authority (Northumberland County Council) fully on board and driving the scheme forward through the statutory channels.

Campaigning has been hard work, with a number of ups and downs, and the following chronology sets out the dates for key events – both positive and less so. For brevity, some events have been merged together and some dates are approximate.

However, Northumberland County Council are now driving the scheme forward through the Network Rail GRIP Process (Governance For Rail Investment Projects)


Mar 2005
SENRUG put forward plans for phased re-opening.


Dec 2005
Early Day Motion signed by all the region’s MPs


Jan 2007
North East Assembly commissioned a report into Phase 1 of SENRUG’s proposals (extending Newcastle to Morpeth services on to Choppington and Bedlington)


Apr 2007
Nexus asked same consultants to look at capacity for Northumberland Park to Ashington


May 2007
SENRUG organised online petition to 10 Downing Street which attracted over 1,000 signatures.


Jun 2007
Adjournment Debate held at Westminster.


Jul 2007
Denis Murphy former MP for Wansbeck and SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett meet Rail Minister Tom Harris


May 2008
Northumberland County Council (NCC) launched GRIP 4 study with freight operator (freight operator subsequently canceled it).


Jun 2008
SENRUG organised charter train to Ashington. The train made 3 return trips during the day. Tickets on the 2nd and 3rd trip were sold to members of the public, but the first trip was reserved for invited stakeholders only including MP, MEP, Councillors and officers from various local authorities, Business Leaders, TUC and the Press. There were just under 160 special guests on the stakeholder trip, and the event was covered on the radio and TV local news and TV The Politics Show


Jul 2008
Rail Minister Tom Harris receives presentation from SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett at Woodhorn


Mar 2009
Secretary of State Geoff Hoon visits the scheme. SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett presents the scheme to him again at Woodhorn.


Photo acknowledgement: The Journal


Jul 2008
Rail Minister Tom Harris receives presentation from SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett at Woodhorn


Jun 2009
ATOC (The Association of Train Operating Companies) includes scheme in its “Connecting Communities” Report. Now there is support from within the rail industry.


Nov 2010
NCC (Northumberland County Council) commence revision of its Local Transport Plan and list the scheme as it’s top priority.


Mar 2010
SENRUG hosts “hustings” meetings with parliamentary candidates for Wansbeck for the forthcoming general election. All support the scheme


Jun 2011
NCC commission Market Appraisal report to meet new DfT (Department For Transport) requirements.


Nov 2011
Closure of Alcan Smelter announced – but Network Rail say freight on the line still expected to increase.


Dec 2011
NCC receives Market Appraisal report and proceeds with Demand Assessment Report from AECOM


May 2012
AECOM Demand Assessment Report submitted to NCC


Aug 2012
NCC, AECOM &SENRUG present Demand Assessment Report to DfT, then tour the line and station sites.


Aug 2012
DfT advise NCC to proceed with GRIP 3 study from Network Rail as quickly as possible.


Oct 2012
NCC Executive Member for Transport & Infrastructure Simon Reed gives upbeat message at SENRUG public meeting, confirming the Council’s commitment to press ahead with the scheme.


Mar 2013
NCC advise SENRUG they will be proceeding to GRIP 3 after completion of preparatory work.


Jun 2013
NCC announce formal study into re-opening the line. NCC tell SENRUG Network Rail are now unable to carry out the GRIP Stages 1-3 concurrently so this will be a GRIP 1 Study initially, but it will be fast-tracked.


Nov 2013
NCC tell SENRUG Network Rail can not after all fastrack the GRIP 1 Study but that it will be completed by January 14


Jan 2014
NCC say GRIP 1 Study from Network Rail now expected end March 14


Mar 2014
NCC say GRIP 1 Study now received from Network Rail and they have a programme of work to move forward.


Apr 2014
SENRUG announce a Schools Competition for local schools to produce a DVD setting out the business case for re-opening the line. 5 local schools will participate. The winning entry will be presented to the schools’ MP at parliament to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the line’s closure in November 1964. For more details go to http://www.senrug.co.uk/2014SchoolsCompetition


May 2014
NCC organise Stakeholder Meeting to present GRIP 1 Report from Network Rail and discuss options for moving forward


Nov 2014
Northumberland County Council announces they have set aside £20m for the scheme. This will cover the cost of the GRIP 2 & 3 study from Network Rail, the GRIP 4 study after that, and include a significant contribution towards the final re-opening costs.


Dec 2014
Following announcement of the winners of the Schools DVD competition in September 14, SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett takes the winning team from Hirst Park Middle School in Ashington to London to present their DVD to Ian Lavery MP for Wansbeck. Mr Lavery says the DVD is of excellent quality and re-iterates his full support for the re-opening. For more details and to see the winning entries go to http://www.senrug.co.uk/2014SchoolsCompetition


Feb 2015
Northumberland County Council full budget approved; this includes the money set aside for the GRIP 2 and 3 study from Network Rail. SENRUG understands the Council will now sign the GRIP 2 and 3 contract with Network Rail.


Oct 2015
Northumberland County Council announce they are proceeding with the GRIP 2 Study from Network Rail and that it is scheduled for completion by June or July 2016.


May 2016
Northumberland County Council ask SENRUG to provide a letter of support for their bid for funding to proceed on to the Network Rail GRIP 3 Study – and SENRUG readily agrees.


Jun 2016
Northumberland County Council receive GRIP 2 report back from Network Rail – but without some key financial data that is to follow.


Jul 2016
North East Combined Authority publishes “ METROFUTURES - The combined future of Metro and local rail in the North East”. This document shows that a local rail route will be established to Ashington via the existing heavy rail freight route as per the SENRUG campaign (and not via the longer Metro route between Newcastle and Northumberland Park). However the document is widely mis-reported in both local TV and press as a proposed Metro extension to Ashington. Correspondence between Chair of SENRUG and Director of Rail at NECA confirms the plan remains exactly as the SENRUG campaign, although greater integration of heavy rail and metro, with a physical connection between the 2 systems at Northumberland Park is envisaged.


Sep 2016
Northumberland County Council receive full GRIP 2 Report from Network Rail, and seek internal approval to proceed to GRIP 3. GRIP 2 estimates re-opening costs at £191m, but this includes a 40% contingency for things like signalling upgrades which must be done whether passenger services are re-introduced or not. Excluding these, SENRUG estimates the true cost for re-introducing passenger trains is nearer to the £50m it has consistently estimated. The Council indicate they hope to commissioning the GRIP 3 by December 2016, the GRIP 4 by October 2018, start construction by February 2019 with trains running by 2021! SENRUG applauds this positive schedule but notes the GRIP 1 and 2 reports both took longer to commission and longer to complete than scheduled, and trusts further delays will be eliminated as the project gains momentum.


Oct 2016
Northumberland County Council announce they are proceeding with the GRIP 3 Study from Network Rail. This means staff are authorised to negotiate terms and price with Network Rail, not that a contract has been signed for Network Rail to do the work


May 2017
Northumberland Local Council Elections. Conservatives take control though 1 seat short of overall majority


Jun 2017
Tories confirm they are committed to the re-opening and say it is there number 1 priority


Nov 2017
NCC asks Network Rail for an interim study – dubbed GRIP 2B - - to see if both costs for the GRIP 3 and the full re-opening can be reduced and process speeded up if some functionality is missed at initially


Nov 2017
Re-opening Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line specifically mentioned in government statement “A Strategic Vision For Rail”


Feb 2018
The Chief Economist to the Bank of England visits Ashington, and blogs his hunch is the benefits of re-opening the railway would be “whopper”. See his blog here.


May 2018
GRIP 2B completed by Network Rail but does not offer anticipated cost savings. NCC say they are still committed to progressing


Feb 2019
Northumberland County Council, in conjunction with Northern, organise a special train to run round the line as far as Newsham. Secretary of State for Transport Chris Grayling was on board along senior managers from Northern, Network Rail, Transport for the North and Nexus, and of course TV crews. SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett was also invited to attend. A few days later the County Council signed off a funding package of £3.5m for the next phase including the “Develop” stage of Network Rail’s “Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline” (which includes work equivalent to the GRIP 3), further scoping work and preparation of a funding bid from the DfT’s “Transforming Cities” Fund. These 3 work packages all started later in the month.


Mar 2019
IPPR North (Institute of Public Policy research - the influential Think Tank) published a Report listing the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening as one of the top 6 “quick wins” for transport priorities across the whole of the North of England. SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett was invited to the launch of their Report in Leeds on March 18th. See https://www.ippr.org/research/publications/quick-wins-for-the-north-s-transport-network


May 2019
The TaxPayers Alliance rank the scheme 4th in their Great British Transport Competition, as one of the transport projects that money could be spent on if HS2 were cancelled


May 2019
A confusing report in The Evening Chronicle said The Secretary of State for Transport wishes to give the Ashington Line to Nexus and is waiting for a proposal from them to take over the track and start running services. Both Northumberland County Council and Nexus confirmed they do not see the route as forming part of the Metro network. SENRUG doesn’t mind who owns the tracks or runs the trains but the key point is the route between Northumberland Park and Central station must, in our opinion, be via the direct Network Rail route via Benton Junction, and not via the much longer Metro route with its additional 10 stops. Otherwise the train journey time won’t beat the bus, and the business case will collapse. Additionally the new Metro rolling stock will not have diesel capability and their battery power will not be sufficient to reach Ashington.


Nov 2019
The North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC) submit a funding application to the DfT’s “Transforming Cities” fund. The application is for a number of schemes across the North East including phase 1 of the Ashington Blyth & Tyne Re-opening. A decision is expected in March 2020, with Northumberland County Council saying trains could be running by late 2022 (although, allowing for issues such as driver training, SENRUG has been told the May 2023 timetable change is a more realistic expectation).


Jan 2020
Two government ministers visit the scheme. First, on Monday 6th January, came Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, and then later, on 28th January, Minister of State Chris Heaton-Harris arrived, announcing £1.5m towards the re-opening, on the same day that a £500m “Beeching Reversal” fund was also announced. There was initial confusion amongst campaigners about the £1.5m as SENRUG feared it meant yet another study was required, or that a new funding application needed to be made to the Beeching Reversal Fund. Subsequent clarification from the County Council confirmed neither is the case. The £1.5m is to contribute to work already underway; the application to the “Transforming Cities” fund submitted the previous November still stands, with the decision still expected by March 2020. The Beeching Reversal Fund is for new schemes, although could possibly be appropriate for phase 2 of the re-opening, which the Council again confirmed they are progressing as quickly as possible.


Feb 2020
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in the prelude to his statement confirming HS2 will go ahead, confirmed that the final decision on the Ashington re-opening (and a number of other transport projects) will be made by The Chancellor in March. This accords with the timescale for the decision on the Transforming Cities Fund Application as previously advised to SENRUG. Meanwhile, Council Leader Peter Jackson confirmed that the Council are now looking to see whether further government funding can be accessed to permit Seaton Delaval and Bebside stations, originally omitted from Phase 1, to now be included in the initial opening – a move that SENRUG strongly supports.

 

After The Line is Re-Opened, What Then?

Once the core link is re-opened, that will not be the end of the campaign. The route has lots of further potential and SENRUG will continue to campaign for the following:
- Creation of stations at both Seaton Delaval and Seghill if they are not included in the core re-opening scheme.

- Introduction of a service between Morpeth and Bedlington with an intermediate station at Choppington. This can be achieved by extending the MetroCentre to Morpeth local services on to Choppington and Bedlington.

- A link between Blyth Town Centre and Newsham. Whilst the original passenger line has been built over in a few places, SENRUG has identified the former freight route Blyth Port could be used for this, terminating closer to where the Town centre is today, and with an intermediate station where the trackbed passes Cowpen Road.

- Extension from Woodhorn to Newbiggin by the Sea. This would require re-instatement of quarter of a mile of new track along the former track bed, from a point where the existing working freight route swings north, just east of the A189 Spine Road.

- There is a privately owned working freight line from Ashington running north to the Butterwell works, rejoining the East Coast Main Line at Stobswood. SENRUG believes the route of this line should be protected, so that after freight operations cease at the end of opencast mining, it could be used to connect the northern end of the Ashington Blyth and Tyne line to the East Coast Main Line, creating extra capacity for local services between Newcastle and Alnwick. However, the proposal would require re-instatement of the recently severed link joining the privately owned line to the Network Rail line north of Ashington (fairly straightforward) and the re-alignment of the junction at Stobswood so it joins the East Coast Main Line facing north. This would be more complex given the vertical separation, but could be achieved whilst heavy earth moving equipment is on site as used for the opencast mining operations.


Other Links

In 2014, SENRUG organised a competition amongst local schools who were asked to create a 7 – 10 minute DVD setting out their business case for re-opening the line. For more details and to see the schools’ entries, click here

SENRUG organised a charter train round the line in 2008. For information and photos on the 2008 Charter, click here.

For the history of the “Blyth and Tyne” line,
click here
.


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