THE Tyne and Wear Metro could be extended and capacity on the East Coast Mainline doubled with just a ‘small’ upgrade to the North East’s infrastructure.

Transport bosses in the region are preparing to write to ministers setting out their priorities for rail projects over the next two decades.

And they will again call for the reopening of the former Leamside Line, which could provide links to Washington’s Nissan car plant, the planned International Advanced Manufacturing Park and into County Durham.

South Tyneside Councillor Mark Walsh, cabinet member for housing and transport, said: "It’s a small thing, but it could actually be a very large thing that is missing.

“To have part of that south of Tyne and Wearside loop, to have the Pelaw flyover, which provides a direct connection from South Tyneside.

“[That would mean] the residents of South Tyneside can directly access the IAMP via the Follingsby Interchange that will be developed in the future and link with the East Boldon curve, which would help to build up the overall rail network – both the heavy rail and light rail network, across the region.”

He added: “It is a longer term ambition as part of the overall strategic plans that we have for our rail infrastructure across the region.”

Cllr Walsh was speaking at Tuesday's meeting of the North East Joint Transport Committee, which was held remotely due to social distancing guidelines and broadcast via Youtube.

In a draft response to the government’s Rail Needs Assessment for the Midlands and North, the panel says the North East risks being ‘left behind’ while projects such as HS2 happen elsewhere.

Reopening the Leamside Line, which was mothballed in 1990, has been a long held target of regional transport chiefs.

As well as paving the way for an extension of the Metro into County Durham as far as Ferryhill, it is also hoped the move could double capacity on the East Coast Mainline between London, Newcastle and Edinburgh.

It runs on two tracks between Northallerton and Berwick, but it is hoped a ‘four-track railway can be achieved through the reinstatement of the Leamside Line’ and other improvements.

Cllr Martin Gannon, the committee’s chairman and leader of Gateshead Council, said: “We’ve got really clearly defined ambitions which I think, in the grand scheme of things, are relatively small amounts of money.”