RAIL chiefs came under fire last night for cutting two important services in the North-East.

Andy Hyams, director of transportation for the Tees Valley Partnership, said the cutbacks in services between Teesside and Tyneside were a backward step for the region.

And he criticised the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) for failing to inform passengers of the changes.

The Northern Echo has discovered that a direct service between Saltburn and Newcastle, via Darlington, is to be reduced in the spring.

The 18 services a day between Saltburn and Newcastle will be cut to just four, early in the morning and late at night.

Passengers travelling at other times will now have to change on to an East Coast Main Line train at Darlington.

The news came after services from Hartlepool to Tyneside, along the County Durham coast, were halved from yesterday.

Trains will run every hour instead of every 30 minutes.

The Whitby to Middlesbrough Sunday winter service will also be stopped.

Ernie Preston, of the North-East Rail Passengers' Committee, said passengers were only informed of the changes yesterday morning, when they came into effect.

He said: "We asked the SRA to inform passengers of the changes at Hartlepool but they said they could find out when they read the new timetables. But the new timetables came out the same day as the changes. It is unbelievable.

"If we are serious about reducing car usage, who in their right mind is going to look at travel between Middlesbrough and Newcastle, and choose that over their car?

"And it is almost beyond belief that the SRA hasn't gone through any proper consultation."

A spokeswoman for the SRA last night confirmed it was looking at cutbacks between Saltburn and Newcastle, but denied that it had already been decided.

She said the Hartlepool service had been cut because it was being heavily subsidised.