The North East must push for “quick wins” if a multi-billion pound vision to radically upgrade the region’s train services is to gain momentum, transport chiefs have been warned.
Council leaders gave their backing on Tuesday 14 June to an ambitious strategy to open a string of new rail lines by 2035, cut air pollution, and give a gigantic boost to the North East economy.
The first North East Rail and Metro Strategy includes plans to reopen the disused Leamside railway line and extend the Tyne and Wear Metro to new areas, including Washington and the Silverlink.
But decision-makers were warned that some “quick wins” would be needed to give the blueprint credibility.
Dave Shaw, of the South East Northumberland Rail User Group and Rail Future, told a meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) that the project could be labelled a “waste of time” if passengers did not see improvements within a few years.
Mr Shaw suggested the introduction of a new local train service on the East Coast Main Line north of Newcastle.
He said the measure would help to tackle congestion problems in places like Seahouses along the Northumberland coast, give better access to shops in Cramlington and the hospital, and open up a much wider array of job opportunities for Northumberland residents.
He added: “Adding a station at Belford would be a plus, but much of the infrastructure required for such a local service is already in place.”
Mr Shaw, who also represents the Railfuture campaign group, also listed the introduction of a fast train service between Newcastle and Teesside via the Stillington line, currently reserved for freight services, as another idea that could bring early success.
A reopening of the Stillington line to passenger trains is one of eight extension projects listed in the blueprint document, the combined cost of opening which would be around £2.5bn.
That list also includes a new line between Consett and Newcastle and new rail connections in the West End of Newcastle.
'Pie in the sky'
Newcastle’s Liberal Democrats claimed last week that the plans, which would require a colossal cash injection from the government, were “pie in the sky” and that council leaders should be focused on combating immediate problems at a time of crisis in public transport.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon told Tuesday’s meeting that the “ambitious” blueprint would cut road congestion and air pollution as well as providing the infrastructure needed to “realise the economic potential” of the North East.
The Labour councillor, who chairs the JTC, added: “There are many problems [today], we are facing a crisis in public transport – bus service reductions, problems on the Metro.
“We do have policies and campaigns in place to tackle all of those immediate issues. But while we are tackling them, we have a responsibility to lift our head above the immediate issues and look to the horizon of how things should be done better.”
After Mr Shaw called for clearer details of potential new train services and a map showing the direct journeys that would be made possible under the strategy, Cllr Gannon agreed that a “more concise” version of the 150-page document was needed to sell it to the public.
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