NOW is the time for the Government to think big and invest in the North-East and North Yorkshire's rail network.

The Northern Echo, with the support of business leaders, council chiefs and MPs, is calling on ministers to help the region help itself by delivering rail services that support communities and drive growth.

Decades of underinvestment have left the region with a second rate service that bears little resemblance to the modern network enjoyed by other regions of the country.

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The Right Lines campaign calls on the Government to ensure the new Northern Rail and TransPennine operators are given the tools to deliver a range of improvements to the rail network including:

- The replacement of 30-year-old trains

- Improvements to run-down stations

- Better customer services, including sufficient staff on trains and at stations

- More services, including a commitment to maintain services at smaller stations

- Smart ticketing across the region

- Faster journeys from improved infrastructure and better reliability

- Better links with other transport modes

The campaign has already attracted widespread support from North-East business leaders and decision makers, as well as national transport campaigners.

The Campaign for Better Transport, which has raised concerns that the Government is looking at the refranchising exercise as a way of cutting costs, said: "We fully support The Northern Echo's Right Lines campaign and it is now up to the Government to act now, listen to people and set out its vision for the new trains, decent stations and better services which towns and cities across the North need."

The campaign has the support of the North East Chamber of Commerce, with director of policy Ross Smith saying that improving transport connections is crucial to the prospects for North-East business growth.

He added: "Given our location, fast and reliable access to other UK markets is essential, while high quality services within the region are needed for both staff and customers.

“Rail has to play a huge part in that and this is a big opportunity for Government to make the investments we need and ensure the next franchisees have the tools they need to do the best job possible for our economy.”

Stephen Catchpole, managing director of local enterprise partnership Tees Valley Unlimited also backed the campaign, saying: "We fully support the aims of Right Lines, which are issues which we have raised during the consultation process for the new franchises."

Giving his support, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson said the North-East deserved better.

"London and the South-East has a fantastic transport infrastructure - if just a fraction of what was spent there was spent in out region we would be a lot better off."

Darlington MP Jenny Chapman described the Right Lines as "an important campaign".

She added: "The services that will be provided as a result of the refranchising will form the building blocks for the awarding of further contracts.

"If we get this wrong, we could lose out on opportunities in the future, but if we get this right, we will be creating a much brighter future for opportunities in Darlington and across the Tees Valley ."

The MP added that for about £3,000 spent per person on transport in the South-East, a mere £5 was spent per person in the North-East.

The Northern Echo is asking passengers to tell us about their experiences travelling on the region's railways and say what improvements they would like to see.

To give your views, email joe.willis@nne.co.uk, leave a comment on this story online at northernecho.co.uk or tweet us at #rightlines