What Is Proposed?
SENRUG’s proposal is for a new passenger railway between Newcastle and Woodhorn, along existing freight tracks, with intermediate stations at Northumberland Park (Metro Connection), Seghill, Seaton Delaval, Newsham for Blyth, Bebside, Bedlington and Ashington.
The scheme now being progressed by the local authority (Northumberland County Council) will be for a passenger railway from Newcastle to Ashington only. Phase 1 will include intermediate stations at Northumberland Park (Metro Connection), Newsham for Blyth and Bedlington. A 2nd phase will deliver further stations at Seaton Delaval and Bebside, along with dualling part of the single-track section to permit a 30-minute service frequency.
The Council does not see the case for a station at Seghill. 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.
SENRUG also supports the Council’s phased approach to the re-opening as a way of getting a good proportion of the scheme delivered as quickly as possible, and aligning with specific central government funding opportunities.
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.
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?
In May 2020, Northumberland County Council, the sponsoring authority, awarded contracts for the Outline Design of the scheme to SLC Rail and AECOM. Although Government Ministers continue to express full commitment to the scheme, funding is not yet in place and the Council are working on applications to the DfT’s Beeching Reversal Fund and RNEP (Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline) Funding. The Council are also re-evaluating whether the two phases of the initial re-opening can now be delivered as a single phase.
The Outline Design work will obviously take longer than originally envisaged due to the need for the consultants’ staff to adhere to social distancing measures resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, but the Council continue to say an overall project delivery date of late 2023 is possible for the first phase, or slightly after that if the initial re-opening is now delivered as a single phase.
A full summary of the main events, both positive and setbacks, from when SENRUG started its campaign in 2005 to the present day can be seen here.
Pivotal moments in the campaign history were the 2008 SENRUG Charter Train round the line and the 2014 SENRUG Schools DVD Competition (to mark the 50th anniversary of the original withdrawal of passenger services in 1964).
After The Line is Re-Opened, What Then?
- Construction of new stations at Seaton Delaval and Bebside (this forms part of Northumberland County Council’s Phase 2)
- Further extension from Ashington to Woodhorn and Newbiggen-by-the-Sea (requires a very short section of new track on existing alignment beyond Woodhorn to Newbiggen)
- Extension of Newcastle – Morpeth trains to Bedlington, with a new intermediate station at Choppington
- New station at Seghill (see The Case for Seghill)
- New link between Blyth Town Centre and Newsham (the old alignment is compromised slightly by Blyth Sports Centre and the new route would need to skirt round it)
- Utilisation of privately owned freight route from Ashington to Butterwell Junction to form relief freight route and diversionary passenger route on the East Coast Mail Line between Benton and Butterwell Junctions, and potential passenger service between Ashington and Alnmouth (requires new north to east junction at Butterwell)
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,