A DIRECT link to the nation’s capital is now one step closer as the LNER Azuma train pull up at a Teesside station.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen has welcomed the first of LNER’s Azuma trains calling at Middlesbrough station as part of critical driver training.

The existing platform 2 has been extended by 75 metres in the first phase of a £34million station upgrade, to accommodate the Azuma trains ahead of LNER bringing its Middlesbrough to London service into operation from December.

The week-long driver training will ensure the smooth operation of the new service when it opens to passengers.

Now, the platform extension is complete, work will turn to the next phases of the scheme, with major customer service improvements at the station including opening up the dilapidated station undercroft to provide a new entrance into the station subway and newly refurbished shops and office units.

There will also be upgrades to the road to the front of the station, improving access between the station and the town centre.

A further phase will see a new platform three built to the north of platform two to increase train capacity within the station.

The Northern Echo: Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen welcoming the LNER Azuma train

Mayor Houchen said: “It’s great to see LNER moving forward with getting their drivers trained so we can give local people the service to the capital they’ve been crying out for.

“This is even more important as our businesses recover from Covid and start to once again visit major cities such as London, Manchester and York on business, securing opportunities and helping them to grow and create good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people.

“The improved connection will also help drive forward investment from the capital into our region as we continue to shout about all of the benefits of being based here, including the UK’s largest Freeport just a few miles down the road.

“Big and small, we’re driving forward with upgrades across the network in all of our boroughs so we can give people the more reliable, faster services that they deserve.”

David Horne, Managing Director of LNER said: “Thanks to investment in Middlesbrough Station, we are working to introduce an inaugural Middlesbrough-London service from December 2021, and a regular service in the coming years, to better connect the heart of the Tees Valley with the capital.

“I encourage all interested parties to comment on the proposed East Coast Main Line timetable public consultation that is currently under way.”

This is the first significant public investment in a Tees Valley railway station since the opening of James Cook University Hospital Station in 2014.

The completion of the platform works come just days after a planning application was submitted to Darlington Borough Council over the transformation of the town’s railway station, and joins investment in other stations including Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool and Teesside Airport.

Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston said: “We need and deserve direct trains to London and this positive development is another sign that, finally, it’s actually happening.

“We can now liaise with people in the heart of government and finance to really bring jobs to Middlesbrough.

“The fact that people have to get a knackered sprinter train from Darlington never made sense.

“It’s been a long process and I am really pleased with the outcome.”