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. Whilst all of these stations have some sort of service Railfuture North East believes that substantial improvements to the timetable could easily be made - and that these improvements would greatly benefit both residents and visitors.

Latest News: June 2023. From time-to-time campaigners will single out an individual station with a call for better services. Such a campaign is now running with the aim of improving the service to and from Chathill by asking TransPennine Express and Cross Country to stop some of their services, in either direction, at the station. Whilst this would improve the service to/from Chathill, one of the aims of Railfuture is to see improvements to the services provided to all the stations between Newcastle and Berwick. We want to see easier journeys both within Northumberland and to and from stations outside the County. We say that an hourly service should be introduced that stops at all the current stations, and additionally at a new station serving Belford, on this section of the East Coast Main Line. We also say that local bus services need to be linked into this new service with both proper connections and a ticketing system that allows for one ticket to cover both the bus and rail elements of a journey . Our proposal would provide a much-improved service to many more people, both residents and visitors, than simply adding a few stops to existing services. Could such a service be viable? The evidence says that it could, and further details of our case can be found below.


The 65-mile stretch of the East Coast Main Line between Newcastle and Berwick includes stations at Cramlington, Morpeth, Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington, Alnmouth, Chathill, and Berwick. LNER, Cross Country, and Lumo all have trains which stop at one, or possibly two of Morpeth, Alnmouth, and Berwick, but apart from early morning and light night services, no train calls at all three, making travel between these stations difficult. The pattern of services between the main towns isn’t regular and sometimes it can be difficult to travel between these stations without having to travel past your intended destination and then catch the next train back. Not only that but many of the more affordable tickets are limited to use on only one of operators. SENRUG have, over the past few years, successfully campaigned to get more long-distance services to stop at these stations but this is always going to be difficult given that the timetables are mainly designed to suit national rather than local needs.

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
LNER, Cross Country and Lumo aren’t the only operators to use this stretch of the line. Two other operators provide passenger services with a much more local focus. Northern operate an hourly service that originates the Tyne Valley before running up the ECML to serve Cramlington and Morpeth. They also operate a service known locally as the “Chathill Flier”. This starts at Newcastle and calls at Cramlington, Morpeth, Pegswood (except for the morning northbound service), Widdrington, Acklington, and Alnmouth before terminating at Chathill and returning to Newcastle. The big problem is that it only runs twice a day, making it a service of limited value to many residents and visitors. The final passenger service to use this stretch of line is a five times daily service, operated by TransPennine Express, that starts from Newcastle before calling at Morpeth, Alnmouth, Berwick, Reston, and Dunbar before terminating at Edinburgh. Two services each day, southbound only, also stop at Cramlington. This service used to start in Liverpool and so provided a useful link to and from areas to the south of the Tyne. Even without the direct link to County Durham and Yorkshire this service still provides a regular link between stations it serves. However, it does not provide a service for the many residents who live away from the main towns, and its use for people from outside the area is limited because it doesn’t stop at some of the stations that could be used to get to visitor attractions and the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by public transport.
Railfuture North East believes that the current timetables simply don’t to offer an acceptable level of service to either the residents of Northumberland, who may want to access jobs and a range of services outside of their immediate surroundings, or to visitors that may not have cars or may prefer to use public transport.

All the stations have local communities that need to travel up and down the line – and not just to Newcastle or Berwick. The intermediate stations often have big potential for generating passengers. Take, for example, Cramlington. Over the years Cramlington, has become a key service centre with a large shopping centre, an emergency hospital, and several specialist clinics. It also has a large area of industrial estates that provide a wide range of jobs. The problem is that Cramlington can be a difficult place to access by rail. From the south it has an hourly service that goes on to terminate in Morpeth and from the North the only services available are the twice daily Northern service from Chathill and the two TPE services from Edinburgh. Moving a little further north, the proposed Widdrington Lakes Holiday Park will provide jobs for local people and will attract many visitors – all potential passengers who might, so long as bus services are properly integrated with the rail timetable, use the existing station at Widdrington.
Rail services also fail to cater properly for the many people from Tyneside and beyond who want to visit the Northumberland Coastal Area of Outstanding Natural to take advantage of the many leisure opportunities in the area. For these people the only answer is often to use a car or spend a long time on the bus.

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. An hourly local rail service would also, in conjunction with the present Tyne Valley to Morpeth service allow for a half hourly service between Newcastle, Cramlington, and Morpeth. 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.

What needs to happen?

Improving the service between Newcastle and Berwick has been a Railfuture North East and SENRUG aspiration for some time. A regular, preferably hourly, local service would better serve north Northumberland with both new stations at Beal and Belford as well as being able to make much better use of the existing facilities at the remaining stations including Chathill. Residents in the area would have a regular service that would allow much easier access to a wide range of destinations. Visitors would be able to travel by public transport to the many visitor attractions in North Northumberland. Further south it would provide a rail service throughout the day to the existing stations at Pegswood, Widdrington, Acklington and Chathill, allowing local people to access the jobs and leisure opportunities on Tyneside and in the Scottish Borders. It would also offer improved connectivity between the key market towns of Morpeth, Alnmouth and Berwick. SENRUG drew up a specification for an initial Feasibility Study and got various rail consultancy firms to tender for it. In May 2019, after a few unsuccessful attempts to obtain funding for the Feasibility Study SENRUG suggested to both Northern and the County Council they could each fund 49% of the study. The study was finally commissioned from Systra in November 2019. SENRUG also provided, courtesy of Railfuture, a 2% contribution to the cost.

The Systra report said that an hourly service between Newcastle and Berwick, stopping at all stations, including a re-opened Belford, could be profitable. It also said that, so long as suitable electrical multiple units could be identified for use on the service, that paths could be found to allow the service to operate. Both SENRUG and Railfuture take the view that such a service would need to generate income from both visitors and residents for it to become a secure long-term proposition.

Following the study, the Council submitted two separate applications to the government’s “Restoring Your Railways” fund, one for the service itself and one for a new station at Belford. Neither were successful but, given the cash limits that apply to this fund, this doesn’t mean that it isn’t a good scheme.

The wider arguments in favour of improving the service between Newcastle and Berwick are also made in the North East Rail and Metro Strategy (NERMS) agreed by the North East Joint Transport Committee in 2022 and an improved service is included in the North East Transport Plan. Railfuture North East has argued that this service should be introduced as one of the “quick wins” that could demonstrate the value of the NERMS strategy – and it could be a “quick win” because the basic service could be introduced without the need for substantial sums to be spent on infrastructure, with potentially costly new stations being added to the timetable at a later date.

The latest argument in favour of improving local services on this section of the line comes from a recent report, commissioned by Northumberland County Council, on the problems that cars are posing for the Northumberland Coast Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. An early draft of this report says that 86% of visitors arrive in the area by car and this, coupled with more people coming every year, has resulted in problems that include pollution, congestion, and shortage of parking spaces. More cars, and more car parks, can spoil the beauty of the area and make it much less attractive to visitors - to say nothing of the impact on the lives of residents who are often unable to park in their own village or in local towns that they depend on for services. Not only that but 31% of households in the North East don’t have access to a car, and an increasing proportion of young adults are not learning to drive, and so don’t find it easy to visit the area. The report concludes that we that we must both manage problems caused by cars and improve public transport - marketing the area as one that we can all enjoy, even without a car. Given the distance from Tyneside, the source of many of the visitors to the area, rail and properly integrated bus services must play an important part in resolving the problem. The area includes many traditional visitor attractions that include beaches, castles, and islands. Not only do visitors come to see these traditional attractions but many people want to walk or cycle along the Northumberland Coast Path, and other local byways, and for these visitors the idea of being able to make their own way from station to station rather than having to return to their car at the end of the day would be very welcome. 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. It would also be able to link, at Alnmouth, with the Aln Valley Steam Railway.

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.

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