The north east’s rail transport arteries are being strangled and the government is making matters worse, says engineer and North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll.
The High-Level Bridge was opened by Queen Victoria in 1849. A masterpiece of Geordie engineering, designed by Robert Stephenson. Everyone who crosses the Tyne by rail is struck by the majesty of our engineering.
In 1856 the Belmont Railway Viaduct was opened on the Leamside Line and in 1857 the Durham Railway Viaduct opened, that gives you that world-renowned view over Durham Castle and the cathedral. We’re blessed with a beautiful region. The north east invented the railways and it’s a travesty we still use the same infrastructure from Stephenson’s time. It’s 164 years old.
Since the Leamside line was mothballed, there are only two tracks into the north east. All the trains from Edinburgh to London, Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool, heading north or south, must share these two tracks with freight and local commuter services.
That means only six trains per hour can safely use the track. Already this year we’ve had to fight off attempts to cancel the Edinburgh to Liverpool train, which will reduce services to Berwick, Morpeth, Newcastle, Durham and Darlington.
The answer is to reopen the Leamside Line. It will double our capacity. It will put Washington on the rail network and make it easier for hundreds of thousands of people in Sunderland and South Tyneside to travel across the country. Without it, the north east will receive no benefit from HS2, 3 or 4, Northern Powerhouse Rail, or anything else.
The Leamside Line is still there, mothballed. Reopening and electrifying it will cost £600m – less than 1% of the cost of HS2.
For a government that says it is keen to preserve the union, they’re failing to connect England and Scotland. This does not level up the north east, it slowly strangles our transport arteries. Our High-Level Bridge is being failed by a low-level government plan.