Ground investigations begin for £162m British North-East Rail upgrade

ASHINGTON: Ground investigations have begun on the proposed Northumberland Line rail upgrade, which aims to re-establish passenger services on what is currently a freight line.

The planned £162m project, running from central Newcastle to Ashington, 18 miles to the north, is being developed by a partnership between Northumberland County Council and Network Rail. Engineering consultancy Aecom and rail consultancy SLC Rail are also working on the project. It will create six new stations as well as three new footbridges, upgrades to the track and new signal locations.

Completion is pencilled in for 2023 but only initial funding has been secured for the scheme so far. It is one of 58 set out a year ago in the government’s five-year rail upgrades pipeline. In January, transport secretary Grant Shapps allocated £1.5m to the project at the launch of the Department for Transport’s rail restoration fund, while a month later Northumberland County Council provided another £10m to allow the detailed design phase to begin.

Aecom said its investigations will assess ground conditions at 80 locations where new stations, bridges and embankments are planned. It will also bore exploratory holes up to 80 metres deep to “investigate the presence of extensive historic subsurface mine workings”.

Rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris said the new passenger route “will transform journeys up the Northumbrian coastline and help level up the economy of the North”. He added: “Investment in schemes through our Restoring your Railway fund will reopen lost railway lines and stations, helping revitalise communities, kickstart business and new housing schemes, and open opportunities for work and education.”

Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson said the scheme “is set to boost the local economy by up to £470m over the coming years”.