Leamside Line

A New Railway from Ferryhill to Pelaw

Latest News July 2022: The North East Rail and Metro Strategy proposes re-opening the Leamside Line to offer several considerable benefits.
1. Relieving pressure on the ECML by diverting some freight services away from the ECML with the possibility of siting a intermodal freight depot on the line.
2. Improving local public transport by using the line for local rail services that could provide new links with both Tyne and Tees.
3. Extending the Metro from the present terminus at South Hylton to Washington and then Pelaw. This would dramatically improve public transport journey times between Washington and Newcastle and offer a direct link to the national rail network at Newcastle Central. It would also offer improved public transport journey times between Washington and Sunderland. A further proposal would see the introduction of a South Tyneside – Sunderland Loop service and the ability to reach many more local destinations from Washington.

Although the Integrated Rail Plan for the North and Midlands did not support the re-opening of the Leamside Line it reported that “As part of the option for interventions along the East Coast Mainline in the North East, the Government has carefully considered proposals to reopen the Leamside line (the mothballed 21-mile line between Pelaw in Gateshead and Tursdale in County Durham). On the basis of available evidence and value for money analysis, the Government considers that the case for re-opening the Leamside route would be best considered as part of any future city region settlement.” Such a settlement depends on establishing a Mayoral Authority, and it seems that negotiations between the current local authorities might result in agreement to set up such an authority. Transport North East are currently conducting a series of studies into the costs and potential benefits of re-opening the line. The proposals that seem to be emerging suggest a phased approach that would start with the extending the Metro from South Hylton to Pelaw, including a station at Washington, and then move on to a full re-opening of the line between Pelaw and Tursdale for heavy rail

The Leamside Line - A recent History.

Passenger services on the south end of the Leamside line were withdrawn in 1941 leaving only 2 stations open. Their services were effectively withdrawn in 1963 with the final closure to passengers in 1964. The line remained open for coal traffic, and use as a diversionary route until 1991 when BR designated the line as superfluous to need following electrification of the ECML. At the height of its operations the line had stations at Usworth, Washington, Penshaw, Fencehouses, Leamside, Sherburn, and Shincliffe. The track has been lifted but the alignment is still in place and protected from development.

Why do we want to see the line re-opened?

Railfuture North East want to see the line from Ferryhill to Pelaw re-opened and used to:
• Provide local passenger services from Ferryhill, Belmont (Durham), Fencehouses, Penshaw and Washington. All of these are substantial settlements that currently don’t have a rail connection. A rail connection would allow local people to access employment opportunities more widely across the North East and be able to take advantage of many other services and leisure activities. Good parking facilities at these stations could also help to persuade motorists not to take their cars into central Newcastle, and so help deal with air pollution problems. The value of a new passenger railway in this part of County Durham could be greatly increased if the Stillington Line was re-opened to provide a fast link into Teesside. The latest version of the North East Transport Plan supports this proposal.
• Improve local transport connections to the Metro and Durham Coast Line at Heworth opening up access to many other parts of the area.
• Open up a new route for freight that will both free up space on the ECML, and so create space for additional local passenger services between Darlington and Newcastle. It will also allow existing and proposed businesses along the route of the Leamside Line to access rail services to transport both raw materials and finished products. The industrial base for the area is expanding with the developments around the Leamside corridor including the North East Technology Park, the Rainton Bridge Business Park, the Doxford International Business park, and .the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP). The IAMP is a joint venture between Sunderland and South Tyneside Councils and is currently being built in the area north of Sunderland's Nissan car plant close to the A19(T).
Extend Metro services from the current terminus at South Hylton to Washington and Pelaw and add the proposed South Shields – Sunderland loop to the local transport network. This would be achieved by making use of the track bed of the former Sunderland to Durham line between South Hylton and the Leamside Line. Although the historical junction only allowed trains to merge onto the Leamside line in a southerly direction, space is available to create a short section joining the two tracks in the other direction. The new Metro Cars will have the ability to run on batteries as well as on the overhead line and Metro development director Neil Blagburn has been quoted as saying that each train battery will be capable of being upgraded so that it can run for 16km without costly overhead lines, potentially even more as technology improves. This should more than cover the distance between South Hylton and Pelaw – and means that the Leamside Line could be electrified to mainline standards. The latest proposal is to use part of the Leamside for a new Metro ‘loop’ service that would connect South Shields, Sunderland and Washington to the International Advanced Manufacturing Park. What is intriguing in this plan is the suggestion that part of the freight line linking Tyne Dock with the Durham Coast line at Boldon would form part of the loop. This loop would make it much easier for people to get around both South Tyneside and Sunderland by public transport.

The ECML between Northallerton and Newcastle, a two track railway with no space to add new track, is overcrowded. Over the years the number and speed of intercity services that need to use this section of line has increased. The proposals for additional services resulting from both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail can only be implemented if additional capacity can be found. This extra capacity can most easily be found by making use of the existing lines between Northallerton and Ferryhill via Teesside and re-building Leamside.

Political Support for the re-opening is growing.

PHO:2020.07.23 - Under the Bridge
Re-opening the line has been on the agenda of the local Councils for many years and now has the full backing of the North East Joint Transport Committee – the body responsible for local transport policy. Full re-opening of the line is a key item in their recently produced transport plan. Durham County Council have recently issued a press release emphasising their support for the re-opening and pointing to the benefits for both their own residents and the rest of the North East. All of the local MPs, from both sides of the House, have expressed their support and are working with campaigns in their constituencies to re-open the line. Local Railfuture members, and the Railfuture Committee, are in touch with MPs and are offering advice and support.

The Transport Planners are on board.

PHO:2020.07.23 - Permanent Way
Transport for the North (TfN) have identified the need to strengthen the ‘East Coast – Scotland’ development corridor’ and their latest plan includes the need to re-open Leamside. TfN modelled a scenario which increases the number of trains per hour between York and Newcastle from the current 6 per hour, to 9 per hour. “The 9-trains-per-hour service specification on this section of the route would meet forecast demand for seating through to the 2040s. The main driver for such an increase in provision is to promote economic growth through providing better passenger connections and more journey opportunities for activities such as business, leisure and skills”. Network Rail are actively looking at options to increase capacity within the ECML corridor, and one of the options they are looking at includes re-opening Leamside. In their study (‘Continuous Modular Strategic Planning Document, 2020 – Church Fenton to Newcastle”) they explore how to increase capacity between York and Newcastle. One proposal included in the report would involve re-opening the Leamside Line. One of the options discussed in the report would fully re-open the line from Tursdale Junction to Pelaw where it would join the Durham Coast Line. The other option would see the only south end of line re-opened before, using a new section of line and junction, re-joining the ECML just to the North of Durham City. Our strong preference is for the full re-opening but if the limited option were to be adopted the Bensham Curve, connecting the Norwood to Low Fell line with the Tyne Valley Line would also need to be re-opened – a reopening that could be of considerable significance to our campaign for a new Station at Team Valley as well as allowing us to make real our campaign for a local service between stations in Northumberland and County Durham. However the cost of the re-opening will be considerable. Phillip Haigh, in an article published by Rail Magazine, points out that there are a number of problems in re-opening the line, including the need to replace a number of crossings with bridges. Because of these problems Network Rail claim the cost would be in their “very high” category - with a spend of over £250m.

It isn't just the Local Authorities and Transport Planners

PHO 2020.07.23 Graffiti on a Bridge
A range of other organisations including the Local Enterprise Partnership, the East Coast Mainline Authorities Consortium, and the North East Chamber of Commerce all seem to be supportive of developments to increase capacity on the ECML. Finally, and most recently, the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England are now taking an interest in the development of ‘Parkway” stations on the line as one way of relieving traffic pressures and the demands for new roads.

In addition to all of these formal groups there is a clear undercurrent of internet based groups who are interested in the line and want to see it re-opened. These groups include, as well as the Ferryhill Campaign, a Leamside and Washington Rail Action Group whose public face is easily found on Facebook. There have been a number of petitions calling for the line to be re-opened and many letters in the local press.

If you’ve enjoyed reading the above, why not consider joining Railfuture. You can do so at https://www.railfuture.org.uk/join/. When you log in to the Railfuture home page you will see a whole range of information about our work and, from this page, you can link to the North East Branch for details of local activities and campaigns.

Updated July 2022

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