Railfuture affiliated local campaign group SENRUG, based in South and East Northumberland – has secured funding for a Feasibility Study into the possibility of a local rail service along the East Coast Mail Line between Morpeth and Berwick.
The study will investigate extending the Newcastle -Morpeth service to Berwick, with an hourly service each way calling at Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington, Almouth and Chathill, plus the eventual re-opening of the former stations at Belford and Beal, and possibly elsewhere.
However, the first step is to establish whether there is enough capacity on the line for local trains, and if not, what interventions would be needed to make the service possible. The study will also include a high-level market appraisal plus outline indicative costs for the proposed new stations.
Funding for the study is being provided jointly by Northern Railway and Northumberland County Council, with a small contribution from SENRUG which is being financed by Railfuture.
Councillor Richard Wearmouth, Cabinet Member for Economy at Northumberland County Council said: “The Council supports the aspiration to see a rail service developed through the north of the county. This has the potential to help revitalise communities and better exploit our tourism and leisure sectors.
Roger Blake, a Director of Railfuture and Head of its Infrastructure & Networks Group added: “Railfuture was impressed with this proposal for a Feasibility Study from SENRUG and are also aware of the other excellent campaign work the group does. We have been pleased to offer support by covering the financial contribution that SENRUG had agreed to make and will be keeping a close eye on the output of the study, which we hope will pave the way for a new rail service to be launched”.
SYSTRA, an international transport consultancy with over 50 years of experience in the UK, has been selected to manage the study. Project Manager James Jackson said: “We are delighted to have won the contract for this study and look forward to working closely with SENRUG and the other stakeholders over the next couple of months. We will bring our significant experience of feasibility studies and new service appraisal to the project and will build on our experience of a similar project looking at local services between Berwick and Edinburgh”.
Dennis Fancett, Chair of SENRUG confirmed the group had started its “North of Morpeth” campaign back in 2016. “Some people think we are a single campaign group as we are perhaps best known for our efforts in restoring the rail link to Ashington. But that is not all we do. We have also worked tirelessly to secure improved train services at Morpeth and are additionally focussing very hard on Cramlington. This campaign however is designed to help those living north of Morpeth, as well as overcoming the 6-hour gap in the timetable that any Morpeth resident wishing to travel north to Berwick currently faces. Some of the capacity on the East Coast Main Line should be reserved for local services for local people. Whilst this study is just a first step in what could be a very long journey towards a service starting, it will provide critical initial information, allowing the authorities to evaluate the next step, and feed in to the next franchise renewal.”
SENRUG’s funding application received letters of support from 10 parish councils or community or station adoption groups along the line as well as from Ann-Marie Trevelyan MP for Berwick. Anyone wishing to know more about SENRUG’s campaign can check out the group’s website at www.senrug.co.uk. More information on Railfuture from www.railfuture.org.uk
Photo: Could local trains soon be running over Berwick’s Royal Borders Bridge? Credit Clive Nicholson / Steve Miller (adapted)