REINSTATING a disused railway line would provide major economic, environmental and social benefits to the region, council leaders claim.

Durham County Council wants to re-open the Leamside Line, which runs for 18 miles from the Tursdale Junction near Ferryhill, to Pelaw in Gateshead.

The line was mothballed in 1991, as it was believed then that the upgraded line provided sufficient capacity for predicted demand.

However, the number of rail passengers has increased beyond forecasts and there is an urgent need for more rail capacity in the North-East.

By 2033 the demand for rail travel to London from the region is expected to have almost doubled compared with current usage.

Councillor Carl Marshall has now called on the Government to commit to re-opening the Leamside Line.

He said: “With stations on the East Coast Main Line corridor at Durham City and Darlington, County Durham benefits from regular direct fast links to Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool, London the West Midlands and the South-West.

“There are however severe capacity constraints arising on the East Coast Main Line, in part from the mix of traffic types, in particular high-speed passenger and slow-moving freight on the two track railway north of Northallerton.

“Currently, trains of similar speeds are run together north of York to maximise capacity, however this prevents an even spread of passenger services through the hour.”

Cllr Marshall is the council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, who also represents Durham on the North-East JTC and is the North-East board member for Transport for the North, the North’s statutory transport body,

He added: “The reinstatement of the Leamside Line would be a strategically important piece of transport infrastructure for the North-East, relieving the existing two track railway between Darlington and Newcastle.

“It could also enable a number of potential new stations in the council area, for example, at Ferryhill, Belmont Park and Ride and Fencehouses.

“Not only would the reinstatement of the line contribute towards wider economic growth, it would increase resilience to disruption on the ECML and ease pressure on the region’s largest road bottleneck – the A1(M) at Newcastle-Gateshead.

The council has said ensuring the rail network in the North-East is ‘HS2 ready’ before the mid 2030s is not possible using existing infrastructure and the Leamside Line reopening is fundamental for the success of the project in this area.

Cllr Marshall added: “We hope that we will see progress on this vitally important project soon.”