Leamside Line

A New Railway from Ferryhill to Pelaw

Latest News March 2023: Railfuture in the Northeast has long argued for the re-opening of the Leamside Line. When we first started to take an interest in the campaign to re-open the line, we saw it as fulfilling three main functions as well, as with every other re-opening, helping to support the economic regeneration of the area around the line. We argued that a re-opened Leamside would allow the re-introduction of a local passenger service between Ferryhill and Newcastle, a service which would also improve access to both Washington New Town and the many new industries (including the Nissan car factory) that have been established beside the alignment used prior to closure of the line. Secondly, it would allow some freight to be diverted from the East Coast Mainline and so free up paths for local services between Newcastle, Chester le Street, Durham, Ferryhill, and Teesside. Finally, we saw a re-opened line as providing a relatively short diversionary route that could be used whenever the East Coast Mainline between Durham and Newcastle was blocked for whatever reason.
MAP:Washington Metro Loop
Over the past few years we’ve seen proposals to extend the possible use of the line to include an extension of the Metro system. This extension to the Metro system has recently been subject to a lot of work and, in effect, splits the overall re-opening proposal into two different, but overlapping, sections. The initial development would open what is being new called the “Washington Loop” as a Metro service. The loop would add Washington, one of the largest towns in the area without access to the rail network, to the Metro system and connect it with both Newcastle and Sunderland. A further extension for the “loop” would allow for a direct service between South Shields and Sunderland.
The loop, as immediately envisaged, would require new track to be laid on the alignment of the Leamside line between Pelaw and the south end of the Victoria Viaduct, and then on the alignment of former Durham to Sunderland Line between the Victoria Viaduct and South Hylton, before using the existing Metro line on to Sunderland. Several new stations are proposed including two in the Washington area.
At their November 2022 meeting the North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC) discussed the Strategic Outline Case (SOC) for the Loop. They now see the Loop as the first phase of a wider ambition to reopen the whole Leamside Line. The SOC was built on previous engineering feasibility and demand forecasting work undertaken as part of the wider suite of corridor studies funded through the Joint Transport Committee. The estimated cost for the Loop was suggested to be in the order of £745m (inclusive of additional Metro cars required) and it was predicted to generate over £90m per year in economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions by over 86,000 tonnes by replacing up to 1.7m car journeys per year.
The next stage of the work will be the development of an outline business case, but the question remains as to who would fund the project. Past attempts to get government funding to re-open the whole of the Leamside line had not been successful but there have been suggestions that the establishment of a ‘Mayoral Authority’ covering Northumberland, North Tyneside, Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland, and County Durham might result in funding being found for at least this part of the whole re-opening and, possibly, for the whole line later. The Government press release announcing devolution deal says that the new authority will have control over “up to £563m to help shape and improve local rail services across the region, as well as the ability to introduce bus franchising”. This money comes from something called the City Regional Sustainable Transport Settlement (CRSTS). One problem with this is that not all of this is new money because most of it consists of existing money that is already committed to other projects. The North East Combined Authority suggests that the total package of investment to transform our transport system will amount to £900m- the figure including both the money from the CRSTS and funding already announced for our bus and metro systems. Analysis of the deal from the IPPR North Think Tank suggests a slightly different picture with a figure of £730m for a transport funding package up to 2028. However, they also say that there are specific transport policy commitments within the deal including capacity upgrades for the A19 and the ECML, and recognition that major rail projects (including re-opening the Leamside Line and extending the Tyne and Wear Metro) will need central government funding.
Railfuture was delighted to have been recently asked by NEXUS and Transport North East about our views on their “Washington Loop” project. Extending the Metro from the present terminus at South Hylton to Washington and then on to Pelaw should dramatically improve public transport in the area. The new stations should improve journey times between this part of Tyne and Wear to both Sunderland and Newcastle, as well as improving the ability to connect into access to the national rail network at Newcastle Central. The map also shows how a further loop service, connecting South Tyneside and Sunderland, could be developed and would improve access between these two areas in the east of Tyne and Wear.
Whilst we have said that we support the project we’ve also made it clear that the development of the Washington Loop as a Metro line must not prejudice the eventual re-opening of the Leamside Line to heavy rail. An assurance to this effect was given to the NEJTC in November 2022, but we’ve made the additional point that running Metro services on this length of the Leamside line should not prejudice any future proposal to electrify the whole line to 25kv AC.
The Stadler specification for the new Metro Cars says that they will have “Powerful traction batteries allowing emergency operation independently of power supply” and that they will be “prepared for addition of larger energy storage capacity”. The specification also says that the vehicles will have “Low energy consumption due to light weight, brake energy recovery, and the latest traction converter technology”. What does this mean in practice? The Metro cars are said to have many similarities with the new Class 777 EMUs currently being delivered to MerseyRail to operate on their 750v DC third rail system. They are clearly not identical but, importantly in this context, both are being developed by Stadler who have developed a variant to the MerseyRail Class 777 stock that is described as an Independent Powered Electrical Multiple Unit (IPEMU). The system is designed to allow batteries to be recharged whilst running on mains power as well as through regenerative braking. If the new Metro cars have a similar system installed the big question is how far it will be possible to run without external power.
In the November 2022 Edition of Today’s Railways, there is an article about the class 777 trains and, in particular, about the seven units are now being fitted with larger 160 kWh batteries and associated traction converter. At the time Stadler said that the batteries have the potential to do around 60 km without needing a recharge, but that maximum speed in battery mode is 60 mph compared to 75mph when using mains power. The Liverpool Echo (19th December 2022) reports a Stadler Project Manager as saying that, on test, a Class 777 fitted with the IPEMU system has run fully loaded, using only battery power, for 135km.
This technology, if it could be applied to the new Metro trains and achieved at least the 60km range claimed to Stadler for their Class 777 IPEMUs, would mean that Washington Loop would be able to operate on this stretch of Leamside without needing to spend money on electrification and so leaving to door open for future 25kv overhead line to be installed. A 60 - 135km range would also open up a whole range of new possibilities for Metro extensions without the need for installing costly OHL. Not only that but battery technology is improving all the time and so both faster charging and greater distances are likely in the future.
The second part of a Leamside re-opening would see the remainder of the line re-laid and used to provide a rail service between Newcastle and the proposed new station at Ferryhill. Whilst there is no clear definition of what services the Metro will offer on this section of line it seems likely that they will include, in the longer term, services to Newcastle, Sunderland, and South Shields. Any Metro service will make use of a substantial number of paths that might otherwise be used for heavy rail services, but we still think that it is important to run a half hourly rail (service from Ferryhill to Newcastle via a re-opened Leamside. This will not only offer access to rail services for many people living between Washington and Ferryhill but will also open up the possibility of a Park and Ride service being established at Belmont and, by making use of connections with Metro at Washington and Pelaw, allow for much easier journeys from this part of County Durham to both Sunderland and South Shields. The combination of Metro and Rail passenger services may use a substantial number of the paths available on the line and this will limit the possibilities of using the line for freight services. Our view is that some paths should be found to allow for freight trains to provide a service to businesses in the immediate hinterland of the line and that proper consideration needs to be given to the re-opening of an intermodal facility to serve the needs of local businesses. Whatever the mix of services we are sure that the line could be used as a diversion route on the occasions when the ECML is blocked – and it is important to note that our understanding is that when the line was used for this purpose in the past the time penalty between Darlington and Newcastle was only 20 minutes, considerably less that the at least one-hour penalty involved in using the Durham Coast Line.
Transport North East have suggested to us that re-opening Leamside could be seen to provide the missing connection between recent Government investment in the north of the region and proposals, including a new Ferryhill Station and a re-opened Stillington Line, in the south of the region. As a practical demonstration of how to use this connection they suggest that services coming from Ashington could be extended, via the Durham Coast and Leamside line, to provide a direct connection between South East Northumberland and areas to the south of the Tyne. Without this link journeys between the two areas involve changing from train to metro and/or bus, with the associated time penalty on the whole journey, at Newcastle.
In the past the Train Operating Companies, Network Rail, and the DfT have suggested terminating all local trains at Newcastle - where people could then catch another train/metro/bus to their final destination. This idea even reached to point where we were seeing proposals to terminate all the Tyne Valley services at Newcastle instead of continuing, as some of them do now, to either Morpeth or to Sunderland and Teesside. It is nice to know that our proposals for cross regional services seems to be gaining some traction and that we could be seeing the idea of a rail network in the area, as opposed to a set of individual services, being properly considered by those in power.
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Updated March 13th 2023

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