Leamside Line

New Railway from Ferryhill to Pelaw (a.k.a the Leamside Line).

LATEST NEWS: The North East Joint Transport Committee is made up of Councillors from Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and Durham. They have recently produced a draft of a plan for the whole of their area that covers the period to 2035. The plan covers all roads, buses, ferries and rail transport but this website is particularly interested in the sections on rail. Re-opening the entire Leamside Line is in the plan and to add to the good news we understand that this project has also been adopted by Transport for the North. Whilst it is important to note that the money has not yet been identified it has to be good news that the project now has regional backing.

Railfuture North East want to see the line from Ferryhill to Pelaw re-opened and used for:
  • Local passenger services.
  • Freight.
  • Metro services at the northern end of the line
Re-opening the 21 mile line would also free up capacity on the ECML, by providing an alternative freight route, and would also offer the diversion route required when there are problems on the mainline. This re-opening, coupled with making use of the Stillington line for passenger traffic would provide new paths for additional local rail services, typically York to Newcastle via Leamside or Middlesbrough to Newcastle via Stillington. The package could be completed by opening a station at Ferryhill which would offer connections to a wide range of destinations so providing new employment and social opportunities to people living in this part of the former Durham Coalfield.
Support for the reopening is growing. It has been, for many years, on the agenda of local Councils and now has the full backing of the North East Joint Transport Committee – the body responsible for local transport policy. A number of MPs, from both sides of the House, have expressed their support. Transport for the North (TfN) have identified the need to strengthen the ‘East Coast – Scotland’ development corridor’ but don’t seem to have published any definite proposals. 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. 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.

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.

The main players:
On 19th July 2016, the North East Combined Authority (NECA) approved ambitious plans to create a joined-up rail and Metro network. The strategy identifies a network of disused or under-used rail routes across the region which could benefit from new or better services. NECA said a re-opened Leamside Line would connect Belmont in Durham with Fencehouses, Penshaw, Sunderland, South Hylton (via a 3-mile extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro), Washington, Pelaw, South Shields, again by using connections with the Tyne and Wear Metro, and Newcastle. NECA has been split into two separate authorities but the new North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC), formed from representatives from both authorities, remains supportive of the plan. In July 2020 the North East Joint Transport Committee (NEJTC) received a report telling them that Transport for the North (TfN) are progressing work on the development of the case for Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR). This should produce a Strategic Outline Business Case for final approval by March 2021. Our sources tell us that the NEJTC anticipate that this report will address the issue of re-opening the Leamside Line. We are also seeing a lot of local campaigning in the Ferryhill area aimed at both re-opening their station and the Leamside Line. See here for details of the Ferryhill campaign

Transport for the North (TfN) have published their Strategic Transport Plan (STP) which includes a specific section on the ‘East Coast – Scotland’ development corridor’ which it describes as needing strengthening along both the East Coast Main Line and other key parallel rail lines, such as the Durham Coast Line, to provide enhanced strategic and local connectivity in the North of Tyne, the North East, Tees Valley, City of York, Sheffield City Region, and North Yorkshire. 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” . They conclude that this would require significant investment. From the capacity analysis work, eighteen potential intervention packages have been derived, which will be sifted down to three or four during September for more detailed development.
The culmination of this work will be a submission of a Strategic Outline Case to the Government for approval. Our region remains engaged in the process and updates will be offered to this committee prior to the work coming before the TfN Board during the autumn / winter.

On 11 February 2020, the government announced plans to proceed with High Speed 2 (HS2), with construction of Phase 1 from London to the West Midlands set to begin in April. At the same time, it announced an intention to draw up an integrated rail plan for the north and Midlands, the terms of reference for which were published on 21 February. This plan will be informed by an assessment of the rail needs of the Midlands and the North to be undertaken by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC). The NIC have taken the first step to build an evidence base for this work, which will be supported by broader analysis and stakeholder engagement over the course of the assessment, in the form of a ‘Call for Evidence. The NEJTC have responded to this call and make the case for the big improvements required for the ECML corridor. Railfuture NE have also responded to the call for evidence and our response can be seen here. In short, the NEJTC are strongly in favour of re-opening the line and using it for local services (including the Metro), freight, and as a diversionary route for occasions when the ECML is blocked. The NEJTC go further and argue for a new route to be established all the way from Northallerton to Newcastle using the existing line to Stockton, the Stillington line to Ferryhill and then the Leamside line to Pelaw. Their aim is to create space for the new services that will be using the ECML as a result of both Northern Powerhouse Rail and, eventually, HS2. A further benefit of this proposal is that it provides what would be in effect a 4 track ECML, urgently needed to support economic growth, without having to completely re-build the present line.

Durham County Council Cabinet received, and approved, a report in July 2018 that called for them to “continue to lobby for investment in the East Coast Mainline to improve capacity and resilience, including supporting the option of re-opening the Leamside Line”. Stuart Timmis, Durham County Council Head of Planning, was quoted on 17th October 2019 as saying, in response to questions about future extensions to the Metro System to Washington, Seaham and Ferryhill: “We, as a council, couldn’t say we will extend the line because it is outside our remit, but we’ve protected the Leamside Line, which is that link into Ferryhill.

South Tyneside Council in their Strategic Transport Update (March 2018) refer to their “working with NEXUS to establish route extensions including IAMP" (The International Advanced Manufacturing Park or IAMP is a joint venture between Sunderland and South Tyneside Councils). The IAMP development is expected to be located in the area north of Sunderland's Nissan car plant close to the A19(T).] links using the Leamside Line and South Shields to Sunderland extension”.

So far so good but there could still be threats to some parts of the line. The issue of the alignment being protected is not entirely simple – in part because 3 separate planning authorities are involved. BBC news (19 July 2019) reported that proposals for a “monster incinerator” planned to be sited at Usworth, near to the Nissan car plant, which would could rule out using the site of former Usworth Station as a Metro Station. These proposals were to be considered by Sunderland City Council. The City Planning Department was recommending a “green light” for the scheme but the Planning Committee disagreed and refused the application. As of July 2019, the company involved were reported as “reviewing all available options”.

In May 2019 Bridget Phillipson (MP for Houghton and Sunderland South) called for, as part of a submission to a Government consultation on light rail which was considering the case for expanding services like the Tyne and Wear Metro, extending the Metro to Doxford Park, Penshaw and Fencehouses. This would be achieved, in part, by forming a loop line with the Sunderland Metro extension, which runs on the track bed of the former line from Sunderland to Durham as far as South Hylton. The disused track bed continues from South Hylton to a junction with 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. Using the current Metro stock on this further extension would require the use of 1,500 v overhead line all the way round the new loop from South Hylton to Pelaw where a junction could be made with the current Metro Line. This solution poses its own problems in that it would rule out electrifying the whole of the Leamside line to mainline standards and, in any case, providing any sort of OHL adds to the cost of this Metro extension. But there might be a way round these problems. The Newcastle Evening Chronicle (5 February 2020) reports that, because the new Metro Cars will have the ability to run on batteries as well as on the overhead line that it will be “dramatically cheaper and easier to open new routes”. They go on to quote Metro development director Neil Blagburn as saying that this new capacity would allow for a new loop extending out from South Hylton, through Washington and connecting back to Pelaw. 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. He points out that the more you can reduce the costs, the more it improves your cost-benefit ratio.

Paul Howell, the recently elected Conservative MP for Sedgefield, met with the North East Branch of Railfuture in April 2020. He was particularly in interested to get our views on the Government’s willingness to consider some reopening of rail lines originally closed under the 1963 Beeching Plan including the Leamside route from Ferryhill to Pelaw. He wanted to acquaint himself with some contemporary railway information so that he would be in a position to “bang the appropriate drum” at Westminster on behalf of the NE. Addressing the particular interest in the Leamside line our representatives, Keith Simpson and Tony Walker, pointed out that in 1999, Railtrack had decided to press ahead with a reinstatement scheme for Leamside on the grounds that additional capacity was required to both create more space on the ECML by diverting freight trains from it, and in order to make provision for development of local passenger service links between Middlesbrough, Ferryhill, Belmont (Durham), Washington, Heworth (Metro Interchange) and Newcastle. Durham County Council was engaged as a co-partner in this proposed reopening and given responsibility for developing a parkway station at Belmont and (possibly) a station at Ferryhill. Preliminary clearance and new fencing work got under way during 2000. The following year Railtrack was declared insolvent and reverted to Government control under the name Network Rail. The proposed Leamside scheme was discontinued and the line left to decay. Keith and Tony emphasised the importance of developing an enhanced local passenger network linking key settlements, especially Washington, population close to 60,000. They also pointed the Leamside having enormous potential in terms of its diversionary capability from ECML, particularly in event of any operational mishap on that line or, importantly, in event of any major structural failures between Ferryhill and Newcastle. Since that meeting we have had contacts with Paul Howell’s researcher and will be providing him with other information about the Leamside Line and one of his, and our, other interests – re-opening the station at Ferryhill.

We know that there are proposals to add additional services between London and Edinburgh and this, coupled with additional demands in the future arising from both HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, won’t be possible without substantial additional capacity being added to the ECML. _Network Rail_ have published a study (‘Continuous Modular Strategic Planning Document, 2020 – Church Fenton to Newcastle”) exploring how to increase capacity between York and Newcastle. It would be nearly impossible to add two further tracks alongside the current ECML and so attention has turned to using alternative alignments to increase capacity. One proposal included in the report would involve re-opening the Leamside Line. One of the options is to fully re-open the line from Tursdale Junction to Pelaw where it would join the Durham Coast Line. This option would allow for use by both freight and passenger services, including some developments to Metro services at the north end of line. The other option would see the 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. In this option the Bensham Curve, connecting the Norwood to Low Fell line with the Tyne Valley Line would also be re-opened – a reopening that could be of considerable significance to our campaigns for a new Station at Team Valley as well as allowing us to advocate for a local service between station in Northumberland and County Durham. . 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. As a result of these problems he says that Network Rail claim the cost would be in their “very high” category - with a spend of over £250m.

Railway Magazine (October 2020) includes a fascinating story to the effect that NEXUS are considering a bid to the ‘Restoring Your Railways’ Fund aimed at developing proposals for a South Tyneside and Wearside loop on Metro making use of part of the Leamside Line. The new Metro cars, with their ability to run on battery power for ups to 12 miles, would make this possible without having to electrify this part of the Leamside Line. The loop would serve Washington and the International Advanced Manufacturing Park whilst connecting with the existing Metro lines at South Hylton and Pelaw. What is intriguing in the story is the suggestion, new to RFNE, is that part of the freight line linking Tyne Dock with the Durham Coast line at Boldon could also be used to complete the loop and provide a Metro connection between South Shields and Sunderland

Other Supporters: The paper discussed by the NEJTC in July also lists a number of other organisations that have addressed the issue of capacity on the ECML and, in most cases, have published analyses that would support the position taken by the committee. The organisations are listed below, as are some of their published reports.

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership have set out several activities and interventions to improve transport links These include working with Transport for the North (TfN) on Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) to identify the appropriate solutions to solve the capacity constraints on the ECML.

The Tyne and Wear Local Transport Plan 3 (2011-21) and County Durham’s LTP 3 (2011-21) both included policies supporting the reinstatement of the Leamside Line. We anticipate that these will be carried forward to the upcoming NEJTC plan.

The East Coast Mainline Authorities (ECMA) Consortium, an informal cross-party group of Councils, Combined Authorities and Regional Transport Partnerships throughout the area served by the ECML have also made representations__

The North East Chamber of Commerce are leading a ‘Fast Track East Coast’ campaign to secure investment in the ECML north of York. The campaign has strong business and political support.

The North East Transport Plan, due to be published in 2021, will draw attention to the need to solve the capacity problems on the ECML between York and Newcastle to enable HS2 and NPR trains to run to our region.

In early 2020, a number of the the region’s MPs submitted bids for funding from the ‘Restoring your Railway Fund’. These included bids to improve services and included proposals for both the Leamside and Stilington lines. The bids supported the idea of re-establishing local rail services in the the wider strategic context of solving the severe capacity issues on the ECML north of York in time for the arrival of HS2/ NPR.

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.

Finally, Railfuture NE are in correspondence with the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England who seem to be particularly interested in establishing parkway stations on the Leamside Line. Parkway stations could play a big part in persuading drivers to switch to rail for substantial parts of their journey and so make a considerable contribution contribute to air quality in both Tyne and Wear and more generally in the region.

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 November 2020

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