NORTH-East rail passengers are set to benefit from a £4.2bn investment to reduce congestion, add more trains and create better stations, rail bosses say.
Network Rail has announced plans for a five-year investment programme to cope with an expected 16 per cent increase in passengers and a 23 per cent rise in freight by the end of the decade.
The improvements include work to support the introduction of the new Intercity Express Programme (IEP) fleet which will be constructed at Newton Aycliffe, County Durham.
About £247m will be spent on unlocking bottlenecks and improving performance on the East Coast Main Line.
The North-East will also benefit from work on the Northern Hub programme, including trans Pennine electrification and a new line in South Yorkshire.
Network Rail says the improvements will allow up to 700 more trains to run each day across the North of England, providing the space for up to 44 million more passengers a year.
Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail, said: “Our railway is a vital part of our national infrastructure.
“Rail services connect homes and workplaces, businesses and markets; they create jobs, stimulate trade and support the growth of a balanced economy.
“Passenger numbers are expected to increase by 16 per cent by 2019. Our investment plans are crucial to making sure we can meet that demand whilst maintaining a safe and reliable service and making the improvements in performance passengers rightly expect.”
Infrastructure including track, signals and bridges will be replaced and renewed.
Officials say the plans also include investment in earthworks and drainage to make the route more resilient in times of extreme weather.
Mr Verster said: “Extreme weather is an increasingly frequent threat to our network, as we have seen with St Jude’s storm last year and the heavy rain and flooding of 2012.
“We have robust plans to target the most vulnerable parts of our route to improve resilience and make sure we are doing everything possible to keep services running whatever the weather.”
Geoff Hunton, from Newcastle-based Merchant Place Developments, the owner and developer of the Newton Aycliffe site where the IEP trains will be built by Hitachi, said the work planned by Network Rail was vital for the project.
“They will be realigning the Shildon branch line so we can get access into the Hitachi storage area and the facility itself.
“In addition they will be providing 1.1km of test track. The work is vital for the programme.”
Network Rail said it would continue its programme of closing level crossings and making improvements when closure was not an option.
“Our investment programme over the next five years will help to address the issues of congestion and ageing infrastructure to help drive up train performance,” Mr Verster added.
*See tomorrow's (Tuesday, April 1) Northern Echo for a piece by Mr Verster about the importance of the investment for the region.