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North of Morpeth Local Service

Local Service North of Morpeth

The 67 mile stretch of the East Coast Main Line from Newcastle to Berwick currently has 8 intermediate stations: Manors (just outside Newcastle) then stations in Northumberland at Cramlington (9.75 miles), Morpeth (16.5 miles), Pegswood (18.5 miles), Widdrington (23.25 miles), Acklington (28.5 miles), Alnmouth (34.75 miles) and Chathill  (46.00) miles.

Latest News: .
TPE Heading North through Alnmouth. From December 5 of these trains will be stopping here everyday.
TPE Heading North through Alnmouth. From December 5 of these trains will be stopping here everyday.
There is a lot happening on the East Coast Mainline – and we’ve got two lots of good news for uses of services to the North of Newcastle. Firstly, as has been widely reported, many of the changes proposed in the May 2022 timetable have been postponed. Only postponed but with a clear signal that they will be amended following the many critical comments made by a wide range of organisations including Railfuture, the local RUGs, local businesses, the local authorities, and MPs from political parties of all persuasions. The changes in Northumberland would have made many journeys on the ECML more difficult and removed much of the, already inadequate, rail connectivity between the key Northumberland towns of Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick
The second piece of news is that TransPennine Express will be launching a new service of 5 trains per day each way between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The new service will provide regular links between all the main towns on this section of the ECML and includes the prospect of an increase in the number of trains calling at Cramlington and Widdrington. It also introduces a new pattern of new stops the Scottish Borders that include, once it opens, the new station at Reston. This news is also interesting in that it is a great example of creative thinking to make the best use of assets that already exist. From the perspective of TPE it makes productive use of otherwise empty stock movements that currently run between Newcastle and Edinburgh - the Hitachi stock is maintained at Craigentinny. It is also a great example of co-operation across the border with both The Rail North Partnership and Transport Scotland working together to get the service established so quickly.
But this isn’t the end of the campaign. South East Northumberland Rail User Group (SENRUG), supported by Railfuture North East, want to see further improvements to services on this part of the ECML.
Firstly, this new TPE service should be merged into their Newcastle - Liverpool service so to providing direct connectivity between the main Northumberland stations and Durham, York, Leeds, and Manchester.
Secondly this new service should be increased in frequency to become an hourly ‘semi-fast’ service through Northumberland.
Finally, national and regional services need to be complemented by an hourly local service to include not only the main stations but also Cramlington, Widdrington, Chathill, Acklington, and Pegswood. This local service should also include a reopened station at Belford and a new station at Benton East, to provide a link from the ECML to the Metro and allowing easy connection from North Northumberland to Newcastle Airport, and an extension beyond Newcastle to a new station at Team Valley (Low Fell).

The current services – Rail and Bus

Three long-distance operators (LNER, CrossCountry and TransPennine Express) run along this section of the East Coast Main Line. Some of these trains run non-stop between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The others stop at one or at most 2 of the key regional centres of Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick (and Dunbar in Scotland). Apart from early mornings and late evenings, no trains stop at all of these regional centres so travel between them during the middle of the day is impossible, without travelling south to Newcastle or north to Edinburgh and then coming back.
Pegswood Station
Pegswood Station
Warning Sign at Chathill
Warning Sign at Chathill
Chathill Station
Chathill Station
Class 156 at Widdrington Station
Class 156 at Widdrington Station
Additionally, there is an hourly local service between Newcastle and Morpeth, with just one train in the morning and one in the evening continuing to Chathill. This is wholly inadequate to provide any type of reasonable service for commuters or to develop the market for local rail travel. There is no local service at all between Chathill and Berwick.

The bus journey between Morpeth and Berwick takes at least 1 hour 45 minutes and only runs every two hours. It is, in effect a local service that serves the small towns and villages nearby the main A1 trunk road. As such it can never provide a service that will compete with the private car over longer distances. A local train stopping at all stations would take just 58 minutes to cover the same distance.

The Proposal

Railfuture is supporting affiliated local campaign group SENRUG who are campaigning for the local Newcastle to Morpeth hourly service to be extended beyond Morpeth to Berwick, thus providing an hourly service throughout the day to Pegswood, Wddrington, Acklington and Chathill. SENRUG are also campaigning for the former stations at Belford, Beal for Holy Island and possibly Warkworth (for Amble) to be re-opened.
The proposed service is not intended or expected to carry passengers between Newcastle and Berwick because the existing non-stop intercity services will always provide a better option for such journeys. The service is however intended to provide smaller communities in north Northumberland with rail access to employment and further education and to facilitate development of the tourist and leisure sector. Such a service could also offer additional benefits if it linked with a local service from Edinburgh to Berwick. (see below).

Benefits for Local residents

The residents of Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington and Chathill have, at present,  just one morning commuter train and one evening return train. This is wholly inadequate and does not reflect the needs of part time workers or those who have variable finish times. When SENRUG consulted on a proposed timetable change to the single evening service, it found evidence that many commuters from these communities simply do not use the train as there is an inadequate choice of services.New stations at Belford and Beal would provide similar benefits to commuters to either Newcastle or Berwick.

Benefits for Local Businesses

Two separate proposals exist to make use of a former opencast mining site at Widdrington. One would create a major sports centre with national standard facilities, a holiday park, and a renewable energy complex – and 700 jobs. The other, more modest, proposal offers a holiday park generating 130 jobs. Either plan could generate additional traffic for a local rail service. Hourly trains stopping at all existing stations and re-opened stations at Belford and Beal for Holy Island would also support the wider tourism and leisure industry. It would allow much better access to locations on the Northumberland Coast Path and Cycle Path as well as serving St Cuthbert’s Way (a long distance path) at both Belford and Beal. Good public transport links would make north Northumberland a more attractive holiday destination and increase inward investment.
The service would also ass assist the sustainable development of the leisure and tourism industry in north Northumberland and by proving connections along the Northumberland Coast Path and Cycle Path, St Cuthbert’s Way at Belford and Beal, better public transport access to Holy Island and a local train service to Alnmouth which will soon be served by the Aln Valley Steam Railway.

The Campaign

In September 2016, Railfuture affiliated local group SENRUG launched its campaign for a Morpeth - Berwick local service whilst simultaneously, another Railfuture affiliated local group north of the border called RAGES launched a campaign for a local service from Berwick to Edinburgh.
The 2 groups produced a joint colour campaign leaflet between them and envisaged the 2 services might eventually be linked up to provide a through service between Newcastle and Edinburgh. The through service would not be used by long distance passengers who would always find a long distance train faster, but would be of benefit to communities south of Berwick wishing to reach those to the north. There is also evidence of commuting from northern Northumberland to Edinburgh, and from southern Scotland to Newcastle. Connecting the 2 local services together (in a similar way that Northern and Scotrail previously did for Newcastle - Glasgow services via Carlisle) would also avoid any issues with capacity to terminate trains at Berwick. SENRUG is receiving strong expressions of support for its proposals from Parish Councils and other community groups in mid and North Northumberland. In May 2019 SENRUG secured funding from Northumberland County Council (49%),  Northern Railway’s Seed Corn Fund (49%) and Railfuture’s Fighting Fund (2%) for a Feasibility Study to go ahead. The study will investigate whether there is the capacity on the East Coast Main Line for such a service and what interventions (such as new passing loops) might be necessary. The study would also consider a high level commercial case for the service. Once we have sight of the results of this study a summary will be added to this page. 

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 14 September 2021
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