IMPROVED rail networks in the North will create better connections with isolated communities and help level up the region, a rail operator boss has said.

An increased desire for better rail links from villages and towns throughout the North East has seen Transpennine Express (TPE) launch new daily services, which it hopes will improve access to work, education and leisure opportunities.

The Northern Echo: Transpennine Express

Launched on Sunday, multiple services per day will now stop at Berwick-upon-Tweed, Alnmouth, Morpeth and Cramlington between Edinburgh and Newcastle in a bid to improve connectivity for communities on both sides of the border.

The new services have been a long time coming for rail campaign groups and users in the region, and it is hoped more stations throughout the North East will be revived in the future.

“What really struck a chord with us was that there’s been a long held hunger for better local connectivity,” TPE managing Director Matthew Golton told The Northern Echo.

“What we heard strongly is that people in the North East want better connectivity to Newcastle and Durham. It’s going to make a big difference.”

The Northern Echo: Matthew Golton becomes MD of TransPennine Express on June 1, 2021

TPE operates services throughout the North of England, playing a key role in connecting the North East with the country’s major cities. Its trains currently serve Newcastle, Chester-le-Street, Durham, Darlington and Northallerton as well as Teesside towns Redcar, Middlesbrough and Yarm.

And there is the possibility of more regional services outside of Northumberland in the future. Mr Golton said: “Commuting has changed and levels are about half than they were pre-pandemic but we’ve realised that the market for leisure travel is capable of being larger than before. We’re looking at all our routes and seeing what we can do and if there are places we can add to the network.”

Yet 100 years ago, before the Beeching Cuts isolated communities reliant on rail services, the rail network was significantly better. Railways such as the Leamside Line connected County Durham communities in ways that are not seen today.

Mr Golton agrees that more needs to be done and is encouraged by a renewed interest in rail travel. “There’s a big national drive for restoring your railway,” he said. “There’s a recognition now of what the railway can do and the value it has to local communities.We are going to see an increased desire from passengers and a desire for more sustainable transport.”

The Northern Echo: LINE: The unused Leamside line where it passes under Broomside Lane, Belmont, in Durham City. Picture: GAVIN ENGELBRECHT.

Getting more people using the rail network remains a battle however, with local leaders and authorities campaigning for better services and investment in the North. The government has been accused of ignoring the North East when pledging to improve rail infrastructure in Northern England in its Integrated Rail Plan.

Mr Golton added: “I hear some of the disappointment around the speed with which things are happening and the disappointment about particular projects.

“We need to be clear on our expectations and work together.”

For now, passengers have to make do with an inconsistent service beset by cancellations, delays and sluggish journey times. At present it takes just 27 minutes more to travel to London than it does to Manchester from Darlington.

But Mr Golton wants to change that: “There’s no question, we need to really turn the dial in terms of the speed of journeys.

“If you connect these communities you can grow the railway. We know need to find out how we can combine the frequency and connectivity to reduce journey times.”

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