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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Tynedale: Railway line boost on track

A MAJOR shot in the arm could be on the way for the Tyne Valley railway line.

The Department for Transport is considering making the line a designated community rail service.

And that could open the door for a more frequent service, better rolling stock and improvements to stations the length of the line.

While the line – one of the oldest passenger services in the world – will still be run by railway company Northern Rail, a new body made up of local councils, community groups and other volunteers, would help decide how they should be run.

The Government claims that such rail partnerships bring in four pounds for every one invested.

Transport minister Baroness Kramer said this week: “We are committed to putting passengers at the heart of the rail network.

“By designating services as community rail services, we will breathe new life into the local rail network and, by providing services that people want to use, will safeguard their future and help secure long-term growth in the local economies.”

The DfT is running a consultation on the proposals through August

The aim is to set out ideas for the development of the line, to facilitate improvements for both the railway and the communities and industries served by the railway.

The Tyne Valley Line is already covered by the Tyne Valley Community Rail Partnership, which has operated on what it calls the Hadrian’s Wall Line for over 10 years.

Partnership member Malcolm Chainey said: “ This puts us on a firmer footing, gives us access to project funding and gets partnership officer John Gillott to meetings for designated officers.”

In the short to medium term, it wants to see improvements to both the environment and accessibility of stations on the line.

This would include the installation of digital passenger information displays at all stations, as well as improving the shelter at Prudhoe Station.

It also wants to see the elimination of access problems for people with disabilities.

Another aim is to encourage further community involvement through station partnerships and attracting local funding, such as has already happened at both Stocksfield and Prudhoe stations.

The line could also benefit from the electrification programme going on in other parts of the Northern Rail network.

The partnership beieves this will free up more modern diesel rolling stock for use on the line, to help eliminate overcrowding and improve service resilience.

In the longer term, the partnership wants to see increased capacity at the stations west of Hexham, leading to increased service frequencies.

Although there is a half-hourly service at Hexham and Prudhoe, the partnership believes that an improved level of service to three trains per hour, or even four on the busiest sections, would make the services more attractive, and bring a significant improvement to the green travel agenda along the entire A69 corridor.

Another key aim is the reopening of Gilsland station, which would create new opportunities for some of the most rural and isolated communities in England as well as significantly improving access to the Roman Wall for tourists,

The partnership has already achieved some notable successes over the past decade, including providing additional information at stations about train times, as well as local attractions.

It has also run special event trains, including music and real ale trains running this during June and July this year, with a jazz band playing and real ale being served.

It is also responsible for striking up a partnership with Mencap’s Dilston College to open a kiosk at Hexham station serving hot drinks and snacks.

It also co-sponsored a study of the line which led to changes in stopping patterns of trains.

Running alongside the partnership is the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group.

It was formed in 2000 with the twin aims of improving the service offered to passengers along the line, and encouraging an increase in rail travel.

Its membership comprises regular rail users, occasional users, potential users and organisations, such as parish councils.

The two groups together lobby Northern Rail the Department for Transport, Passenger Focus, and Northumberland and Cumbria county councils, on all rail-related transport issues.

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