BOLD £80m plans to regenerate a North-East railway station will support thousands of jobs and attract key investment to the region, business bosses have claimed.
Darlington Borough Council and Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership (TVU) say upgrading Darlington Bank Top Station would help deliver 25,000 local jobs and add £1bn to the economy.
Bosses say it could emulate King?s Cross Station, with reduced journey times and increased capacity for more long distance services on the East Coast Mainline.
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The proposals, which include splitting and building new platforms and creating more commercial space, were revealed as TVU presented its case for North-East rail travel ahead of the process to replace the East Coast franchise.
They also want to lift the frequency of trains at Darlington, and add services accessing Middlesbrough.
They added it would increase capacity for extra rail freight from Teesside?s industrial sector and be a catalyst for growth among Darlington's growing business hub, which includes the new £39m National Biologics Centre.
A report says the proposed scheme would require the support of, and majority funding from, Network Rail.
Councillor Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, and TVU leadership board member, said: ?It is vital that industry and our inward investment stay here.
- This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and if we get it, we can achieve significant value in the Tees Valley.
- It is not just about existing services.
- There is so much opportunity to build investment.
Plans were unveiled two years ago to turn Bank Top into a regional hub, with changes including a new platform to serve southbound trains and local services; the conversion of platform four to serve Bishop Auckland; and new shops in the station portico, in Victoria Road.
A report outlined TVU's argument on improving services.
It said: ?Darlington Station acts as a critical transport gateway to the Tees Valley providing fast and regular links to London, Scotland and other destinations.
- There are more than 360,000 annual trips to London alone with this direct route, facilitating visitor revenue of £5.4m in the local community every year.
- Current rail services bring in 600,000 visitors to the Tees Valley every year that spend about £72m, supporting 1,400 jobs, and the town has critical links to Scotland for the oil and gas sector.
- There is also a compelling case to introduce new direct services between Middlesbrough and London.
- Middlesbrough is arguably the largest town in England without such a direct link and GDP impact could be as much as ?47m a year if up to two trains an hour were introduced. Linda Edworthy, TVU's director of policy a strategy, added: ?We have to see this as a real positive opportunity.
- We have seen it at King?s Cross, and while Darlington is smaller, there is no reason why it cannot be the same.
- The area deserves it.
Shortlisted bidders for the East Coast franchise, First Group, Keolis/Eurostar and Virgin/Stagecoach, will submit bids this month, with the preferred bidder announced in November.