Transport bosses in the North East have set out plans for a massive upgrade of rail and light rail across the region.
The North East Combined Authority (NECA) has agreed a new Metro and Local Rail Strategy, which sets out the case for more than £1bn of new investment in the existing Metro urban transit system over the next 20 years.
An artist's impression of a new Metro train
The strategy also identifies a network of disused or under-used rail routes across the region that could benefit from new or better services, ‘putting whole towns and communities back on the national railway map’.
Nick Forbes, lead member for transport on NECA and leader of Newcastle City Council, said: ‘We have approved an ambitious strategy for expansion of local rail across our region, tied in with continued investment, development and expansion of the iconic and world-famous Metro system.
‘Local rail brings huge economic and social benefits to the communities it reaches today but we need to extend those benefits into new areas. To do that it is essential we secure funding for a new fleet of Metro trains, acting as a catalyst for the expansion of local rail and better integration across North East England.’
Disused or little-used rail routes that could be brought ‘back to life’ for local passenger services include routes where services could be increased, routes currently used for freight traffic only, and some where the track has been pulled up but the alignment still exists.
The strategy raises the possibility of reconnecting towns such as Ashington, Peterlee and Washington, as well as creating new links into business parks.
It links this potential expansion of local rail with a £550m investment in a new fleet for the Metro, with a target date of ‘the early 2020s’.
The strategy says advances in train technology mean new trains could operate more widely than over just its traditional electrified system, opening the way for the expansion of local rail services and better integration.
Nexus, the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive, which owns and manages Metro, has begun talks with the Government about funding and will submit a detailed business case before the end of this year.
Tobyn Hughes, managing director for transport at the combined authority, said: ‘We believe some existing and disused local rail corridors can be combined with Metro to create a single network at a lower cost than new-build railways. By fusing local rail and Metro together we can create something new and better than the sum of those two parts.’