Five more North East rail bids turned down

While recent attention has focused on North East bids to the government to progress work on two local rail lines – one successful and one unsuccessful – it has emerged that five other bids have also been turned down.

The government confirmed following the Budget that it will launch a £50,000 feasibility study to examine re-opening the Weardale Railway – part of a line which originally ran from Bishop Auckland to Stanhope and Wearhead, through constituencies now held by Conservative MPs..

It was also known to have rejected a bid to the Restoring Your Railway Ideas Fund (RYR) for reopening the Leamside Line, which would have linked Tursdale in County Durham to the Tyne and Wear Metro at Pelaw in Gateshead – a bid supported by six Labour MPs and one Conservative.

Now a report to be presented to the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) on November 16 reveals that five other RYR bids have been unsuccessful – to reinstate the Bensham Curve and line to Team Valley (and potentially Chester le Street); to reintroduce passenger services to the former freight line along the Cobalt – Silverlink corridor in North Tyneside; to enhance services between Morpeth and Berwick; and to open new stations at Gilsland and Belford in Northumberland.

The JTC report suggests that the rejection of the bids (including the Leamside Line bid) was not unexpected: ‘Although the rejection of the bids is very disappointing, JTC have set aside a budget to progress studies which will help strengthen the case for future funding bids for these important corridors’, it says.

Meanwhile, Durham County Council has submitted a separate strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for RYR funding focused primarily on reopening Ferryhill station and reintroducing passenger services along the Stillington freight line to connect South Durham with Tees Valley.

The JTC report adds ambitiously: ‘This could be phase one of a new passenger service connecting Tees to Durham, Wearside and Tyneside, with the Stillington Line connecting to the mothballed Leamside Line’.

While it could be argued that the granting of £50,000 for the Weardale Line study is a favour to Tory MPs while the rejection of the Leamside Line bid is a snub to Labour, the overall picture looks more financially than politically influenced. While the Bensham Curve and Cobalt-Silverlink proposals are in Labour constituencies, the other unsuccessful bids are in Conservative territory in Northumberland. All of them look like long shots, irrespective of the politics.