There’s been a lot in the press about the Ashington Blyth & Tyne re-opening. Firstly, Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Transport Baroness Vere’s article in The Journal (Online version 5th May 2020) saying the government is still committed to pressing ahead with the scheme, coming in the middle of lockdown, was most welcome. Then last week, a statement that SLC Rail and AECOM were starting the Detailed Design stage, with accompanying positive comment from Northumberland Council Leader Cllr Peter Jackson was again most welcome. But as the Northumberland Gazette correspondent Ben O’Connell noted in his piece, there’s still no word on how it will be funded, following the absence of a mention in the Chancellor’s Budget Speech last March, despite the scheme being repeatedly talked up by government Ministers. Nevertheless, the fact that work is still progressing behind the scenes can only be welcome. A group called “Connected Cities” are holding an online seminar on the Ashington re-opening – though as far as we can make out with no involvement from anyone in Northumberland.
Other good news is that, further to my last post, the CIS at Morpeth is now working again (except the screen down in the subway) and the yellow safety line at Cramlington has been re-painted – both longstanding fault requests from SENRUG so thank you Northern for listening. Speaking of Northern, train services have now returned to our line, but note it’s just two-hourly off-peak – not easy for those returning to work and wishing to stagger their hours, but moving in the right direction, and probably keeping ahead of demand. But we do urge Cramlington passengers in particular who need to travel but find the lack of service a problem to contact us, so we can pass on your feedback to Northern.
Meanwhile, I can’t help wondering if the government has done too good a job in persuading people not to travel. Safety of course is the most important consideration, and we should not overlook the safety of rail industry staff who should be applauded as key workers. But will the railway ever be open for leisure travel again? If so, at what point will that happen? Is there a need to re-educate ourselves so that instead of asking “is it safe”, the questions become “is it as safe as any alternative” and “is it as safe as it’s going to be in 6 months or a year’s time”? It would be a shame if the legacy of the COVID-19 crisis is to push us all back to polluting car use, just as the tide has finally turned against Dr Beeching.