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Network Rail’s study on the East Coast Main Line north of York opens up new potential for the region


The route study between Church Fenton and Newcastle looks at what is needed to make the network ready for freight and passenger demands in the 2030s along with the potential of Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 trains.

As a Chamber we have been campaigning on behalf of our members for capacity improvements on the East Coast Mainline to create more reliable local, freight and intercity services and to help unlock investment and growth in the region’s economy.

The North East is heavily reliant on the East Coast Main Line. Berwick, Morpeth, Newcastle, Durham and Darlington are all served by the East Coast Main Line. The route provides vital connections to Scotland, the rest of the North, the Midlands and London as well as allowing businesses to move their goods by freight to our region’s ports.

Central to our region’s ambitions is the urgent need to improve the East Coast Main Line to allow for reliable connections to the North East.The line is currently unreliable due to there being only one track north and one-track south between Northallerton and Berwick. This track is being used by local, long distance and freight trains, there simply isn’t enough space for the connections the region needs.

These capacity issues are causing delays with passenger services stuck behind slow moving freight trains and disruption leaving the North East cut off from the network as there are no alternative routes.

Our Fast Track East Coast campaign has set out the need for investment in the East Coast Main Line to drive economic growth for the North East we need investment in our connections. Improved connectivity will help to give some open-up new markets and boost investment in the North East, infrastructure spending will help to give confidence to the region’s economy and aid with the economic recovery process and the levelling up agenda. Without this much needed investment our region’s potential will continue to be held back by out-dated infrastructure.

From their study Network Rail have set out some key recommendations for investment. The case for investment has been identified with or without HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail. Network Rail have said that ‘bringing forward these recommendations would have significant benefits to the railway and economy over the coming years’ with increased capacity and more reliable services.

The study highlights the reinstatement of the Leamside line and new track on the Bensham curve as options to improve capacity. Creating a parallel track will help to increase capacity and separate slower moving freight trains which will help to create more reliable services and will mean that the route will be able to cope with demand and help to drive economic growth for the region. Coupling this with freight improvements on the Stillington branch and the Eaglescliffe line there is the potential to create an alternative path to the East Coast Main Line which will provide much needed capacity on the crowded route which will improve rail journeys for thousands of existing passengers each day and allow for more stops at stations such as Chester le Street and Northallerton. It will also help to make the region ready for Northern Powerhouse Rail and HS2 trains ensuring that the North East benefits from these larger projects.

Rail freight is crucial to the North East’s ports, creating W12 gauge clearance between Northallerton and Newcastle on the Stillington branch will make it easier for goods to reach the region’s ports and encourage the use of rail freight over road which has a positive environmental impact.

The Durham coast route provides important links between Newcastle, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middleborough. Suggestions in this study such as more platforms at Sunderland and Hartlepool stations will help to support more services running on the route, better connecting the North East.

The study also includes support for Tees Valley Combined Authority’s plans for Darlington station. This will help to support a growth in demand for local, regional and national routes. New platforms at Darlington will prevent local lines around Tees Valley from crossing the East Coast Main Line on the approach to Darlington opening up the potential for more frequent services. Lengthened platforms at Newcastle station are also highlighted as a way to increase capacity and to ensure that the station can accommodate HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail trains.

Network Rail has said that it will work with Tees Valley Combined Authority on its plans for Darlington station and will pass on its other recommendations to the Department for Transport and Transport for the North. As a Chamber we will continue to build the economic case for investment in the East Coast Main Line and work with local stakeholders to highlight to Government the need to invest in the region’s infrastructure.