The £700m vision that could see the Tyne and Wear Metro extended to Washington

North East transport leaders are pressing ahead with a £700m ambition of extending the Tyne and Wear Metro to Washington.

It's the fourth largest town in the country without a train station.

It's been suggested that the town could be connected by reopening the former Leamside line.

The disused route, which runs between Pelaw and County Durham, was left out of the Government's heavily-criticised rail upgrade plans for the North of England.

Next week, the North East Joint Transport Committee is due to sign off on a £100,000 study to drive forward plans for a new 'South of Tyne and Wearside Loop' of the Metro - developing a business case that can be put forward to secure backing for a huge renovation project estimated to cost £700m.

The loop would use a section of the Leamside line to bring Metro trains through Follingsby to Washington and then over the Wear and past Penshaw, to join the system's current end-point at South Hylton.

It is hoped the move could potentially lead to a series of new stations in areas that have been without trains for years.

The proposed extension to the Tyne and Wear Metro which would divert to Washington Credit: Nexus

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland Council, said: "Expanding and investing in our rail and Metro network helps us create a more dynamic, healthier and vibrant city and region that's fit for the 21st century.

"Working together and building this business case for the Leamside line is very much part of how better public transport brings benefits.

"In addition to bringing Metro to Washington, if the line is reopened in full it could offer Sunderland faster links to London, Leeds and Manchester via connections with the East Coast Main Line at Tursdale.

"Our regional spending on public transport is about a third of what it is London, investing in Leamside is a key factor in how we change this."

Graeme Miller, Leader of Sunderland Council, Tobyn Hughes, MD Transport North East, Cllr Martin Gannon, Chair of Joint Transport Committee Credit: Local Democracy Reporting System

The ambitious extension of the line is one of a number of major upgrades that are hoped will one day transform the North East's public transport offering. Other projects include the arrival of a £362m new Metro fleet and an £800m vision of a much-improved bus network.

The 'South Tyneside and Wearside Loop' will be discussed at a meeting next Tuesday where council leaders are expected to sign off on significant budget cuts that it is warned will have a "devastating" impact on bus passengers.

It comes as operator Nexus face a huge shortfall of more than £21m in 2022/23 unless the Government performs a U-turn and continues to offer emergency Covid bailout funding.

There are fears it could lead to Metro services have to be cut.

A report ahead of next week's Joint Transport Committee meeting states that Washington South would be the area with greatest demand for a new Metro station, but that reaching the International Advanced Manufacturing Park would be "difficult".

Ahead of next week's expected approval of the latest study, Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon added: "The development of the business case for the South of Tyne and Wearside Loop is great news for regional connectivity and goes to show how central the Leamside Line is to our regional transport ambitions.

"We have heard time and time again how much people want to extend Metro and bring it to Washington in particular, so I'm thrilled we are taking this important step forward."