North East leaders are urging ministers to back a major expansion of the Metro that could bring trains to Washington and the MetroCentre.
The region is preparing to make its case to the Government for a significant widening of the Metro network into under-served communities, plus a raft of other new rail services linking to Northumberland and County Durham.
In response to a Department for Transport (DfT) call for evidence on potential new light rail links across England’s towns and cities, the North East will call for the money and powers to expand the reach of its train service.
A £362m fleet of new Metro trains should start arriving in 2021, and any expansion of the network would require an enormous investment from the government.
A draft letter from Coun Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead Council and chair of the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC), states: “Each year, Metro and Local Rail contributes around £224m of Gross Value Added to the North East economy. In a wider measure of GDP and welfare benefits, the overall contribution increases to £437m per annum, which equates to an economic value of around £8.50 per passenger journey.
“Local decision making and accountability is at the heart of both our approach to planning and operating the system and our ambition to expand the reach of both Metro and local rail. In time we hope that devolution of the local rail services to our region will allow us to plan and deliver a more integrated Metro and rail offer, capturing the customer, environmental and economic benefits which can be realised. By these means we intend to grow our Metro and local rail system.
“An expanded network, generating more journeys and carrying more passengers will help grow our local economy, making travel greener, offer better connectivity to opportunities and making it easier to travel around our region and enjoy its great leisure attractions.”
Local transport bosses’ vision to expand the Metro by 2030 would see the network stretching out into the West End of Newcastle, and also across to the Metrocentre and Team Valley. The Sunderland section of the network could be expanded out to Washington and also south to Seaham and Doxford Park, while leaders would also like to open new stations in North Tyneside to serve the Cobalt business park and Silverlink.
Further rail improvements could involve re-opening a line connecting Ashington and Blyth to Newcastle city centre — a key aim of the new North of Tyne Combined Authority — and re-opening the Leamside line which links Ferryhill in County Durham to Washington and Pelaw.
Coun Gannon’s letter, which is being presented to JTC members next week before being sent to the government, also calls for clarity on funding in the immediate future to keep the existing Metro network running.
He adds: “Without this, Nexus, the owner and operator of the Metro, will be prevented from properly planning the maintenance and operation of the Metro system reducing the effectiveness of light rail in our region, reducing the benefits which the system brings to our economy and diminishing the passenger experience.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, has also expressed her support for expanding the Metro in response to the DfT consultation and in a letter to Chris Grayling.
She said: “Residents of Washington have been calling for a Metro link for many years now. Yet, despite our passion and determination, proposals are yet to be actioned. This has left many of my constituents feeling that Washington is being left behind, with poor transport infrastructure.
“Some have hailed expansion as ambitious, but I firmly believe that an expansion to Washington New Town is viable and well overdue. The Tyne and Wear Metro is one of our regional treasures, and the Government must continue to invest to maintain its infrastructure. “
A Nexus spokesman said: “We remain committed to expanding the Tyne and Wear Metro system in the future and look forward to working with our local authority partners to achieve that. Any network extension on Metro would require a detailed business case to be submitted and a substantial funding commitment from the Government.”
Daniel Holland , Local Democracy Reporting Service