Re-open Ashington Blyth & Tyne Line

A detailed chronology of SENRUG’s campaign to re-introduce passenger trains on the Ashington Blyth & Tyne freight route is below For brevity, some events have been merged together and some dates are approximate..

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


SENRUG’s 2008 Charter Train at Bedlington Station. John Brierley


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.


Geoff Hoon (centre) with SENRUG Chair Dennis Fancett (left) and former Wansbeck MP Denis Murphy (right). 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


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.


Chris Grayling waits to join the special train at Morpeth. Andrew Carmichael.


Special Train crosses the River Blyth at Bedlington Bank Top. Andrew Carmichael.


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.


Mar 2020

The March 2020 Budget and Transforming City Fund awards do not include funding for the Ashington Re-opening. Urgent enquiries to pursue how this will then be funded given the Prime Minister’s earlier statement of commitment to the project are overtaken by the Corona Virus crisis, which itself raises a question mark as to whether even those schemes that were announced will be able to go ahead, once the nation’s financial situation is re-assessed after the virus emergency.


May 2020

Northumberland County Council award the contract for Outline Design of the scheme to SLC Rail and AECOM working together. This work equates to the Design phase of RNEP (Rail Network Enhancement Pipeline) and is broadly equivalent to the GRIP 4 (Single Option Development) stage of Network Rail’s GRIP (Governance for Rail Investment Projects) Process. As the Transforming Cities Funding Bid was unsuccessful, NCC are now re-evaluating whether the initial re-opening plan can be delivered as a single phase instead of the two-phase approach required by Transforming Cities, and are developing funding applications for the DfT Beeching Reversal Fund and RNEP Funding. Government Ministers continue to express commitment to the scheme, including an article by Baroness Vere (Under Secretary of State at the DfT) in The Journal (5th May 2021), and the Council continue to indicate an overall delivery schedule of late 2023 is possible for Phase 1, or slightly after that if indeed it does prove possible to deliver the scheme as a single phase.


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