REDUCING the journey time for trains travelling between London and Newcastle to two-and-a-half hours has been identified as a key aim by North-East councils.

A direct service from Middlesbrough to the capital is also a vital addition, according to the North East Rail Statement - a report produced this week by the Association of North East Council (Anec) with the region's two local enterprise partnerships.

The statement sets out the council's short, medium and long-term aspirations for improving the region's rail network.

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The document notes that with a new contractors being sought for the East Coast Main Line (ECML)and the Northern Rail and TransPennine Express services, there has never been a more important time for the region to engage with the Government and the rail industry to improve the network.

The report states: "Through strong cross-party political leadership and support, we are adopting a strategic approach to making a compelling case for rail improvements and investment in support of our economic priorities, including tourism and business growth opportunities.

"In this context, our engagement with national decision-makers will continue to be of enormous strategic importance."

The aspirations and aims include:

- Engaging with Department for Transport and Intercity East Coast franchise bidders to push for the journey from London to Newcastle to be cut to 2hr 30min.

- The introduction of direct services from London to Middlesbrough when the ECML franchise is awarded later this year.

- Work with Network Rail to ensure the Darlington station improvements and capacity constraints between Northallerton and Newcastle are tackled as soon as possible.

- Maintaining the direct hourly service between Middlesbrough and Manchester Airport.

- Improving rolling stock on all Northern routes in the North-East including the removal of the unpopular Pacer trains.

Other aims for the councils include extended hours of operation on the Bishop Line, Tees Valley and Esk Valley routes, and the introduction of a second hourly service to Newcastle from Manchester.

Pushing for the electrification of the ECML to Middlesbrough and Teesport is also identified as an important target.

The report concludes that maintaining the status quo with regard to the region's rail network is not an option.

"Our aspiration for the future is a rail network that will help us realise our economic growth potential for the benefit of the whole of the North-East," it adds.