A senior councillor has urged rail bosses not to reduce Sunderland’s service.
Arriva-run rail operator Northern has said it is investigating possible routes for its new Northern Connect service, which will run through Newcastle, linking Carlisle and Hexham with Stockton and Middlesbrough.
Coun Michael Mordey, Sunderland City Council’s Portfolio Holder for City Services, fears the company could decide to operate a Teesside to Tyneside service using the East Coast Main line, reducing or even ending the services that run through Sunderland to Seaham, Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough, Tyneside, the MetroCentre, and Hexham.
Northern chiefs insisted they were exploring faster route options between Sunderland and Newcastle.
“Any suggestion then of not including Sunderland in the updated service will inconvenience and alienate a lot of people,” Coun Mordey said.
“Frankly, any suggestion that Sunderland is not part of any updated service is appalling.
“I don’t bear the argument that Sunderland also has its Metro service for Tyne and Wear travel. Yes, it does, but as Grand Central and Virgin run services to London, Sunderland is a main railway station and it’s a station with a catchment area of at least 275,000 people in our city.”
Coun Mordey is also urging the firm to improve rolling stock on its Sunderland services.
“Anyone travelling on this service will have been seen the Pacer trains that are frankly a disgrace,” he said.
“Commuters in the south east wouldn’t stand, or indeed, sit for it.
“Arriva is investing in new stock but our understanding is that the North East is getting refurbished trains to replace the Pacer. The North East should be getting more new trains not old stock.
“I’d remind Northern to look to its roots, its region, and look to the future making sure that it updates its Sunderland services.
Mike Paterson, regional director at Northern, said: “By 2020 Northern’s modernisation programme will see more trains, faster journeys and increased capacity on key routes during peak hours.
“We have started delivering improvements in the North East, with the first of our new refurbished trains in operation and station facility upgrades started on the Durham coast.
“Northern fully supports the council in their work to improve Sunderland station. In advance of their work, next month, Northern will install a new digital information wall and ticket vending machines and add new safety features to the escalators. There will also be extra customer service staff at Hartlepool station following the introduction of new ticket gatelines.
“We are committed to speeding up journey times from the Tees to the Tyne and are exploring faster route options between Sunderland and Newcastle.
“We are here to meet the needs of the region and plan to discuss this further with all involved, including all transport authorities in the North East.”