Government minister hopes rail extension from Sunderland to Washington and Durham 'will come to fruition'

Dreams of reopening a disused railway line have received Parliamentary support from a government minister.

Tuesday, 11th February 2020, 4:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 12th February 2020, 11:46 am

Transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris is hopeful that long-standing plans to restore the mothballed Leamside route linking Sunderland, Washington and Durham “will come to fruition”.

Mr Heaton-Harris mentioned the line – which was axed as part of the infamous Beeching Plan in 1964 – in the House of Commons after he was contacted by former Sunderland Conservative Parliamentary candidate Christopher Howarth.

Mr Howarth, who came second in the battle for the Houghton and Sunderland South seat at the 2019 General Election, sent Mr Heaton-Harris photos of the line’s Victoria and Belmont viaducts across the River Wear as part of his campaign to extend Metro services along the route.

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The picturesque Victoria Viaduct, at Washington, could reopen to rail traffic is the mothballed Leamside line finally reopens.
The picturesque Victoria Viaduct, at Washington, could reopen to rail traffic is the mothballed Leamside line finally reopens.

Mr Heaton-Harris said during a Parliamentary debate with North Durham Labour MP Kevan Jones: “I have been contacted by a local activist near to the right honourable gentleman called Christopher Howarth who is keen to see the railway between Sunderland and Durham reopened.

“As a viaduct fan, I can say that there is one of the most beautiful viaducts I have ever seen along that route, so I very much hope that those plans will come to fruition.”

Parliamentary researcher Mr Howarth said the line should never have closed and is hoping a non-political group can be formed within the Sunderland and Durham area to bid for funding from the Government’s new £500m pot to reverse Beeching cuts.

He believes separate spurs from South Hylton and Pelaw can join together near Penshaw before heading to Durham, adding: “The next thing is more flesh on the bones. But there is an open door for us to look closely at this.”

The long-standing campaign to extend the Metro to Durham via Washington has been discussed in Parliament.

The Department for Transport is expected to shortly publish its report on extending light rail schemes nationwide following a public consultation period prior to last year’s General Election.

Washington and Sunderland West Labour MP Sharon Hodgson urged constituents to back a Washington extension through the consultation and said an expansion to the new town was “viable and well overdue”.

The North East joint transport committee, including both Sunderland and Durham councils, also supports the line’s restoration.

Christopher Howarth has contacted transport minister Chris Heaton-Harris about the possibility of the mothballed Leamside rail line reopening.