What Is Proposed?
The existing rail link between Ashington and Butterwell junction should be upgraded to create a new rail route between Ashington and Alnmouth, and points further north.
The link would primarily be justified by the advantages it would create for freight trains, but additionally opens up opportunities for new passenger services.
For freight, it would create a much simpler route between Port of Blyth and Scotland, without freight trains needing to reverse at Bedlington or go south to Newcastle and run round the loop to re-join the East Coast Main Line going north.
The line would also create an alternative freight route between Benton Junction and Butterwell Junction, freeing up the East Coast Main Line for more passenger trains, and given the track and alignment exists, could prove to be significantly more cost effective than other infrastructure investments to increase capacity.
The link would also allow a new passenger rail service between Ashington and Alnmouth / Berwick, creating a link between north Northumberland, and Ashington (serving Ashington College and the Wansbeck Hospital) and Northumberland Park (serving Silverlink and Cobalt). Of the 2 Northumberland Line trains per hour to Ashington, one train per hour could go to Woodhorn and Newbiggin and the other could go on to Alnmouth or further north. Consideration could be given to building a station at Linton to serve the village and other communities further north.
Additionally, the link would also create a diversionary route for passenger trains in cases where the East Coast Main Line between Morpeth North Junction and Butterwell Junction is blocked.
The privately owned freight line (the “Butterwell Line”) should be brought into Network Rail ownership, re-connected to the Northumberland Line at the Ashington end (the physical connection was removed a few years back but the track and alignment remains in place), upgraded and double tracked, with a new north to east junction created at Butterwell.
To make full use of the link as an alternative freight route between Benton Junction and Butterwell Junction, the remaining single track sections of The Northumberland line between Northumberland Park and Newsham should also be upgraded to double track, giving a double track railway from Northumberland Park to Butterwell Junction.