'Rapid' progress being made on reopening Leamside Line to extend Metro to more Sunderland stations
North East transport chiefs say they are “rapidly” working to convince the government to commit to reopening the mothballed Leamside railway line.
No passenger trains have run on the disused track since 1964 and its reopening is seen as one of the top priorities in local councils’ £7billion vision to overhaul the region’s transport infrastructure.
Restoring the line, which runs from Pelaw in Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham, would allow train services to return to places like Washington for the first time in decades and pave the way for a major extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro.
The North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), which includes representatives of seven local councils and the North of Tyne mayor, says it is now launching a new board tasked with “rapidly developing a business case to reopen the disused Leamside Line to passenger and freight trains, bringing together all of the parties who have a role in the reopening”.
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, recently launched a petition to reopen the line in full, amid concerns that the Government was considering a cheaper ‘Leamside South’ option that would create a bypass from the East Coast Main Line around Durham but would not reach Washington.
It is hoped that the Leamside Line could increase capacity 50% on the East Coast route by creating an alternative path for slow-moving freight trains.
New passenger stations could also be opened in Washington, Belmont, Follingsby and other communities, while a new Metro “loop” connecting South Tyneside, Washington and Sunderland would share the northern section of the reopened Leamside Line.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon, chair of the JTC, said: “The Leamside Line is critical to the future prosperity of the North East. It is part of the urgently needed investment to boost the capacity of the East Coast Main Line in the North East, and it can deliver other major economic benefits to the region through improved connectivity.
“We are leading on this, bringing together a range of partners on a multi-agency board to enable us to put forward a strong business case for the reopening of the Leamside Line in full.
“By working closely with strategic partners, we will be able to tie multiple strands of activity together, creating a compelling unified case for the reopening of the Leamside Line.
“We know this can happen and it remains one of our top priorities to deliver this for people of the North East.”
A bid was recently submitted by Transport North East to the Restoring Your Railways Ideas Fund, which could provide funding to conduct feasibility studies for the reopening of various disused lines and stations.
The Leamside Line runs for 18 miles between Pelaw in Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham where it meets the existing East Coast Main Line, with a three-mile branch running between Penshaw and Sunderland that would connect with the existing Metro network at South Hylton.
Washington is the fourth largest town in the UK without a rail link, while other areas covered by the line include Fencehouses, Rainton, Belmont and Shincliffe before it rejoins with the main line at Ferryhill.
Passenger services were effectively withdrawn in 1963, with the final closure to passengers in 1964, and the line has been completely mothballed since 1991 having previously been open for coal traffic.