North East transport bosses have launched a furious tirade at the Government, amid fears for the prospect of high speed trains and contactless tickets coming to the region.
It was revealed that week that the Government has axed more than £100m of funding for smart ticketing initiatives across the North – dealing a massive blow to hopes of allowing passengers to use a single pass or a contactless credit card to travel across local bus, Metro, and rail services.
Council leaders have slammed the decision and also repeated calls for major new investment in the East Coast Mainline (ECML), including the reopening of the disused Leamside line between Pelaw and Ferryhill.
North East transport officials say that putting freight trains on the Leamside line would provide desperately needed extra capacity for more and faster trains on the ECML, as well as paving the way for a major expansion of the Tyne and Wear Metro to Washington and County Durham.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon told the North East Joint Transport Committee (JTC) on Tuesday that the case for funding was “absolutely overwhelming” – and urged the Government to put its money where its mouth is, after promises of ‘levelling up’ the North East.
Coun Gannon, who chairs the JTC, said: “It is not just about levelling up or improving the economy of the region, the fact is that the current configuration is not adequate – it does not satisfy demands pre-Covid.
“We had LNER wanting to operate more regular trains to London, but you can’t because it is a single track not double track, competing with local services and freight. You can only run a certain number of trains on that configuration…It is completely clogged and constrained.”
He added: “The fact is that they are not putting enough money in, so our scheme falls off the agenda because there is not enough money.
“If they believe in economic growth in the regions and levelling up and delivering for the North, then they need to put more money in.
“For me, this is a red line – it is absolutely, 100%, a red line. Either they mean what they say or they don’t.
“Either they don’t care about the North East and the North or they do, simple as. I want to know their answer – do they care about what happens to the North East of England or don’t they?”
The Government will soon publish an 'Integrated Rail Plan' for the Midlands and the North, but a recent National Infrastructure Commission assessment of the region's rail needs offered no detail on proposals for upgrades for the line north of York.
Coun Gannon also repeated calls for the Government to confirm long-term funding to protect the Metro and local bus services from the ongoing impact of the pandemic, saying that Government hopes of lifting social distancing on public transport from April are “clearly not going to happen".
Durham councillor Carl Marshall called Government budget cuts to Transport for the North an “absolute kick in the teeth”, while Newcastle City Council deputy Labour leader Joyce McCarty added that the Government was “undermining” devolution.
She added: “We know how much has been invested in Crossrail, and I’m not suggesting Crossrail shouldn’t have happened, but everything happens from London. Even the investment in East Coast Mainline is being developed from Kings Cross as opposed to starting in York and working north and south.”