Cause for concern as East Coast Mainline changes reduce direct services and connectivity - upgrade should be a key regional priority
The proposed revisions to scheduled timetables on the East Coast Main Line will reduce direct services and connectivity to other major Northern cities and are a cause for genuine concern for the region's rail travellers, businesses, and political leaders.
It's been known for well over a decade that the Newcastle-Northallerton section of the ECML is a significant constraint on the rail network's capacity, restricting ability to expand or even maintain current service levels with significant implications for the connectivity and competitiveness of the region's economy.
The North East is already on the sidelines on major rail investment decisions. HS2's eastern leg to Leeds and Northern Powerhouse Rail, which is likely to focus solely on the Leeds-Manchester route, mean that an ECML upgrade isn't on the cards any time soon.
Regional council leaders and the North of Tyne Mayor sit on the Transport for the North board, but neither they nor North East MPs have been able to use their positions to secure investment in this key regional priority. In recent years they have sought to prioritise restoring passenger services on the SE Northumberland line, the Leamside line, and potentially even the Consett line, taking attention away from a more pressing need to improve ECML capacity by diverting freight onto the Leamside line.
This situation starkly illustrations a lack of foresight on the part of the region's leaders in deciding the North East's top priorities for transport investment. Their £6 billion regional transport plan is more accurately a lengthy wish list of more than 300 projects, few of which have hope of being funded.
If everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The ECML in the region is in danger of becoming a bottleneck, and the North East is in danger of becoming a backwater.
by Cllr Greg Stone
Opposition transport spokesperson, Newcastle City Council & member of the North East Joint Transport Committee's Overview & Scrutiny Panel