Is the North East's rail network being left behind?
Published 07/07/2016
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The North East could be forgiven for casting envious glances towards Scotland last week, as the Queen officially opened the Borders Railway.

The 30 miles of new track between Edinburgh and Tweedbank constitute the UK’s longest new domestic rail line in a century, bringing services back to the Borders 46 years after the route originally closed. Early signs are positive – the trains are packed, and there’s already talk of extending the railway to Hawick and even Carlisle.

It’s not just Scotland making the headlines with new public transport investment. Birmingham, for example, has just welcomed a new fleet of trams to replace the original 16-year-old vehicles, while across Britain, new stations are reconnecting towns like Ilkeston and Kenilworth to the rail network. Not to mention the planned HS2, of course.

Meanwhile, as Tyne & Wear’s 35-year-old Metro trains buckle under the strain of Great North Run day, and Northern Rail’s Pacers crawl along years after their intended life span, North East passengers and businesses are justified in asking “What about us?”

There’s certainly always plenty of talk about new investment in the North East’s rail network. Extensions to Metro (and much-needed new trains) are mooted from time to time, while proposals to reopen mothballed rail lines are made, but yet to be implemented. Even the planned new station at Horden is taking an age. In the meantime, Washington, Blyth, Ashington and Peterlee have the dubious honour of being among Britain’s most populous station-less towns.

Progress may be afoot, though. The North East Combined Authority’s bid for devolved powers could, at last, see Metro extensions developed and the Leamside and Ashington, Blyth & Tyne railway lines reopened – along with the powers, finally, to actually make these things happen.

With Hitachi trains starting to be assembled at Newton Aycliffe this month, the North East is rightly being hailed as a centre of modern train manufacturing. Let’s hope we can take a leaf out of Scotland’s book, and become a centre for modern train travel as well – preferably before Borders Railway trains start pulling into Carlisle Citadel.

Written by Graham Soult

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