We can make much more of North East England’s railways.
Modern trains have a unique power to inspire journeys, invigorate communities and stimulate local investment.
Dismissed and in decline for decades in the UK, recent times have seen railways reborn, routes re-open, new stations spring up and new developments grow around them.
People welcome the convenience and ease of train travel as roads grow more congested. Business recognises the value of being close to a station that brings customers and staff to the door.
In North East England we have an opportunity now to exploit our priceless railway heritage. We use only a fraction of the assets we have. A network of under-used or disused ‘dormant’ routes thread through the region, sleeping giants that are one legacy of our industrial past.
Some are former passenger lines, although many were freight routes connecting the sites of old mines and factories to ports. Where new residential or business developments are or could be planned nearby, these routes can once again become vibrant arteries, helping to move people easily across North East England, connecting with established communities, towns and cities.
Many dormant routes are surprisingly ready for this. They remain largely free from intrusion along their path thanks to the foresight of local authorities.
In 1980 we re-opened the failing local rail service on Tyneside as the Metro system, quadrupling passenger numbers through an integrated transport plan hailed as a step into the future. In 2002 we brought Metro into and through Sunderland exploiting spare capacity on the existing national rail line combined with the re-opening of a route on through Pallion to South Hylton.
Now we believe a much wider network of dormant routes can be integrated with Metro to create a single network for the whole region, at a lower cost than new-build railways.
In some places Metro can be upgraded, extended or new stations added. In others, the potential is for local and regional trains to reach new destinations and form new connections with Metro and the national rail network around our major towns and cities.
This is a bold vision not just to transform travel, but to use it as a catalyst for economic development. We shall engage with business and local communities as we build our plans. We will work together with Transport for the North so projects of huge regional importance also play their part across a much wider stage.