A TRANSPORT pressure group has criticised Northern Spirit for stopping all trains between Middlesbrough and Sunderland because of a landslide.

The Tees Valley group of Transport 2000 says that despite the landslide last Wednesday, which was caused by recent heavy rains, trains could have been rerouted rather than cancelled.

Northern Spirit is providing a 35-mile bus service between the two towns and says it is the most practical option, but Transport 2000 says it is unacceptable.

Chairman Peter Walker said: "Regular users of the coast line did not buy their rail season tickets in order to be transported on buses through a succession of traffic jams.

"Many of them have pressing appointments daily, as members of the academic world, be they art college or university students, university lecturers, trainee or qualified teachers.

"As such, they depend on fast, reliable, conveniently-timed train services, and nothing else but train services will do."

Mr Walker said that trains could be run between Newcastle, Sunderland and Seaham and then from Hartlepool, through Billingham and Stockton, to Middlesbrough.

He said the rerouting would leave buses to bridge a small 12-mile gap between Seaham and Hartlepool once an hour.

"We call on Northern Spirit to restore trains on the trouble-free sections northward from Middlesbrough immediately," Mr Walker said.

No one from Railtrack was available for comment last night on how long the delays were expected to last, but Northern Spirit spokesman Howard Keal said the suggestion was "impractical".

"Getting on a train, getting off it and on to a bus, and then getting back on to a train is unlikely to be something our customers would be comfortable with," he said.