NETWORK Rail’s £37bn five-year improvement programme looks set to snub a wishlist of North East track upgrades.
Rail passengers groups have warned that while some East Coast Main Line work will speed up connections, almost none of Network Rail’s refurbishment money will come to the region. Lines in the region calling out for electrification, new passenger services or full scale reopening have had the case turned down as money instead goes on improving services via Manchester and Leeds as well as improving links to London.
Last night Tony Walker, from transport group Railfuture's North East branch, said he could only give a guarded welcome to the moves.
He said: “Of the £37.5bn total budget only a pittance is earmarked specifically for a track enhancement in the North East, namely the easing of the so-called pinch point between Northallerton and Ferryhill.
“No mention, however, of electrification or track enhancements for the important Tyne Valley route between Newcastle and Carlisle, or of an intention to progress plans for the introduction of passenger services over the Ashington and Blyth freight lines: or of track upgrades on the Middlesbrough to Sunderland route: or of reinstatement of the Ferryhill-Pelaw (Leamside) line which means Washington remains isolated from the rail network.”
Mr Walker added: “These particular projects would really help boost mobility and connectivity in our region.
“Pressure must be put on Network Rail to make sure North East services get a fair allocation of resources.”
Projects include various electrification schemes, such as the Great Western and Midland Main Lines, station improvements at Birmingham New Street and Reading in Berkshire, and reopening 31 miles of railways in Scotland closed under the Beeching cuts 50 years ago.
But alongside this comes a warning that the bill may have to be paid for by annual above-inflation fare rises until the end of the decade. Phil Verster, route managing director, said: “We plan to spend £240m to improve connectivity on the East Coast Main Line which we will use to help address key pinch points at Peterborough and Doncaster, as well as between Northallerton and Ferryhill and between Newcastle and Edinburgh.
“However, as our route gets busier our challenges get bigger and more complex. Increasingly we have to balance the need to build more infrastructure, run trains on time and manage costs, and in many areas choices will need to be made.”
These particular projects would really help boost mobility and connectivity in our region