IMPROVEMENTS to rail links across the Tees Valley were on track at the official opening of a new £2.2m railway station by Transport Minister Baroness Susan Kramer.

The James Cook station, a five minute walk away from James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, will serve its 6,000 staff and around a million patients and visitors each year.

Baroness Kramer said: “Good transport connections act as an engine for economic growth and link local people to vital services.

“We have learnt some humbling lessons in Whitehall that local people need to drive the transport priorities. We are not the right people to decide what’s important to the area.

“The councils and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are there to set priorities and drive where the money goes in the future and that’s critically important for growth.”

Travelling on an early morning train from London to Darlington, her connection to Middlesbrough was about 20 minutes late, an indication of need for new rolling stock, thought deputy mayor of Middlesbrough, councillor Dave Budd.

Baroness Kramer arrived on a train specially renamed Captain James Cook, Master Mariner at the new station, which has been supported by LEP Tees Valley Unlimited (TVU), Northern Rail, Network Rail, Middlesbrough Council and South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Investment in the new station on the Middlesbrough to Whitby line is alongside £4.5m improvements to 11 other local stations which include electronic timetabling, signage upgrades, shelters, improved lighting and seating and the introduction of CCTV.

Work has been carried out at Allens West, Billingham, Gypsy Lane, Longbeck, Marske, Marton, Nunthorpe, Redcar Central, Redcar East, South Bank and Stockton.

Andy McDonald, MP for Middlesbrough, said he would be meeting Baroness Kramer next week to stress the importance of major rail link improvements needed in the area.

“We have got to connect on the other major issues including the Tees Valley metro and connectivity to other major conurbations, London in particular as well as Leeds and Manchester.

“Part of that has to be the electrification of the line from Northallerton to Middlesbrough to Teesport. And we have to resolve the tangle of lines at Darlington. At the moment it hinges on the future of the East Coast Mainline and that’s a real fetter to development . If that’s solved it will bring new economic opportunities to the Tees Valley."

The new stop at James Cook University Hospital was paid for through a Local Sustainable Transport bid from the Department of Transport by TVU.