The council approved £10m funding in February to develop its ambitions to revive an old freight rail line for passenger use. The Northumberland Line runs north of Newcastle to Ashington.
Aecom and SLC Rail have been working on Northumberland Line plans for the council since 2018. Having completed the outline business case (OBC) and option selection stage of the scheme, the two firms will continue to work together to provide multidisciplinary project management, design, operations and advisory services to deliver the design phase.
The £162m scheme is the biggest capital project that Northumberland County Council has ever delivered.
The project is envisaged to be delivered in two stages.
Phase 1, budgeted at £125m, sees the introduction of four new stations at Northumberland Park, Newsham, Bedlington and Ashington, and new track for double track extensions east of Benton North Junction and south of Newsham. Construction could begin in June 2022. Early works under Network Rail’s permitted development rights could be as soon as August 2021, the council hopes.
A new turnback platform siding at Ashington, the reinstatement of Furnace way sidings and significant signalling improvements and enhancements complete the major interventions of Phase 1. Other track, infrastructure and systems works are necessary, particularly to the single line section, to upgrade level crossings, and improve line speeds. This will allow an initial one train per hour service to operate by September 2023.
Phase 2, costing £37m, provides a two trains per hour service as well as two additional stations, at Seaton Delaval and Blyth Bebside. A passing loop south of Seghill between Northumberland Park and Seaton Delaval stations completes the major interventions required at Phase 2. The passing loop is required to enable the hourly freight path to continue when passenger lines step up to a half-hourly frequency.
Phase 2 construction could start in February 2024, with the half-hourly service beginning in January 2025.
Aecom regional director Simon Middleton said: “This new scheme is central to the commitment Aecom is making to invest and develop the right infrastructure whilst meeting the needs of local communities. With better rail connections, the redevelopment of the Northumberland Line will no doubt boost the region’s economy and create a number of opportunities for local residents who travel along this route.
“Having successfully delivered the first phase with Northumberland County Council and SLC Rail, this new trailblazing approach to delivering key strategic infrastructure rapidly and to budget via the government’s rail network enhancements pipeline (RNEP) has the potential to help regenerate other major cities across the UK and leave a lasting legacy for generations to come.”
SLC Rail managing director Ian Walters said: “This is an extremely exciting project to be involved in, which will help regenerate a lost line and make a positive impact to the local region. If we can maintain the momentum and passion amongst the partner organisations working on this scheme, it could well be a game changer for rail in the UK and show that private and public sectors can work together successfully to deliver major third-party rail projects.”
County council leader Peter Jackson described the project as “key to the future of Northumberland” and said: “We are excited to be stepping through into the next stage of this exciting scheme.”