O UR region sits on a crossroads, with links as strong to London and to Edinburgh as to our northern neighbours.

To continue to sit on that crossroads, and to thrive as an outward-facing region – both domestically and globally – we need the right investment and vision for the future.

That means fighting for a change in the way our nation’s transport infrastructure is funded and designed – focusing on drawing the regions closer together, rather than closer to London, as it does now.

Our rail network is the perfect example – an outdated hub and spoke model which is frustratingly close to capacity.

The East CoastMainline from North Yorkshire to Newcastle is formed of just two tracks; Sunderland, Hartlepool and Middlesbrough are detached from the region’s main rail artery; and Darlington requires trains to slow significantly and move off the mainline to serve the station.

Redevelopment of Darlington Railway Station is planned and can act as a catalyst for regeneration around the site as well as cementing its position as a gateway to the Tees Valley – vital now and as we prepare for the arrival of High Speed Rail.

In the shorter term, rail passengers in the region will soon notice improvements to their service, with new trains and increased service frequency planned by all the major train providers in the region – it is vital that capacity constraints on the network are relieved to allow these improvements to be delivered.

New trains and service improvements are arriving on Northern, First TransPennine and Virgin East Coast services, with the latter two receiving new trains from Newton Aycliffe-based Hitachi.

Hitachi Rail Europe’s £82m investment in the region has already created hundreds of jobs, established a supply chain of local businesses, and is helping young people in the region develop the skills in advanced manufacturing techniques, which will help the North-East be productive and competitive in the future.

It’s also symbolic of how many of the positive changes we want to see as a region are already being delivered by innovative companies doing business right here.

The same is true of rail freight.

Our region’s ports make itthe ideal place for goods and raw materials to enter the country, be stored and processed, before being distributed to their final destinations.

Many businesses, like Middlesbrough-based AV Dawson, which serves Nissan with steel from Tata Steel’s Port Talbot works, are investing as demand grows.

The logistics sector, and rail freight in particular, has huge potential in the North-East, but needs substantial investment from the Government to place the needs of freight alongside improvements to passenger services.

That’s why the North East England Chamber of Commerce’s Manifesto 2017 includes a focus on building a connected North-East, unlocking freight paths at the same time as improving passenger services.

“We’ll be campaigning hard this year to ensure the voice of business is heard, and the region gets the investment it needs to reach its full potential.

HITACHI RAIL EUROPE HITACHI has spent £82m on their new rail vehicle manufacturing facility in Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, which will eventually create about 900 jobs including 50 apprentices.

As well as sourcing parts in the region and working with local suppliers, they’re also helping to develop a new generation of skilled workers through sponsorship of South Durham University Technical College.

Hitachi’s trains will be running on Virgin East Coast routes from 2018, and on First TransPennine Express routes from 2019.

Karen Boswell, managing director, said it will play a key role in the future of UK rail.

She said: “We take great pride in bringing British train building back to its spiritual home of the North-East.

“Our trains are built a short distance from the famous Stockton and Darlington line, where rail as we know it today was born.

“The ripple effects of our investment in Newton Aycliffe are being felt right across the region.

“Our new intercity and commuter trains are built using a host of parts sourced from the local area.

“Each and every train we build helps support thousands of jobs across the North-East.

“The long-term impact is even greater still, with a new generation once again inspired to pursue careers in rail, engineering and manufacturing.

“Investment in transport links such as rail acts as a strong driver in economic output.

“The world is an increasingly connected place thanks to modern technology, yet the desire for business to be conducted face-to-face has never wavered.

“As our economy continues to rebalance away from the South, Northern cities must continue to see investment in transport links.

“We’re proud our new intercity trains will transform passenger experiences from the North-East to London, Scotland and major northern cities such as Manchester and Liverpool.

“Passengers out of busy railway hubs such as Darlington and Newcastle will experience more seats, space and on-board technology, a journey fit for the 21st Century”

‘Invest and they will come...’ AV DAWSON AV DAWSON has invested millions in its own railfreight facilities and is pushing for better rail connectivity across the UK so the business can provide more efficient transport for its customers.

Gary Dawson, managing director, outlines his vision for the future.

He said: “Around 20 per cent of the scheduled freight trains coming into and out of Teesside are coming into AV Dawson’s facility and we believe the volume of trains can increase significantly.

“Our decision to invest millions in our rail infrastructure has been based on how we see the market changing over the coming years, rather than the demand we are experiencing currently.

“Our site provides Teesside with a strong railfreight facility to enable it to transport cargo more efficiently, but improvements need to be made to the country’s Victorian rail infrastructure if we are really going to realise this investment in our business and our region.

“With the Government’s drive to get freight off the roads and the growing campaigns for rail freight connectivity we’re starting to see more of an appetite to make progress.

“We’re working with the team at Peel Ports in Liverpool to support greater rail links East to West as we believe this increased connectivity will make the region and the wider North much stronger.

“We already have significant volumes of road freight moving along this route, including 30,000 tonnes of steel per year, which has the potential to be moved far more efficiently for our customers if we could move it by rail.

“Typically, trains coming into our facility are carrying around 1,500 tonnes of cargo, which is more than 50 times what can be carried on a truck, so huge opportunities for improved efficiencies and environmental benefits.

“Rail can be ideal for larger, bulky cargo and with the fall in demand for coal, the train operators have been left with huge fleets of wagons that are under-utilised.

“Surprisingly, many of the businesses we are speaking with just don’t seem to consider rail as an option, so there’s a big message to get out there to businesses too; they should consider whether rail might be the right option for them.”