Transport North East

Strategic Rail

Rail connectivity – East Coast Main Line  

On behalf of the North East Joint Transport Committee we believe that the key to achieving the region’s long-term economic plan lies in upgrading the East Coast Main Line. 

As a region, the North East relies on this vital line for all of our services to London, Scotland and the Midlands, as well as to Leeds and Manchester. 

Currently the route is operating at full capacity as between Northallerton, Newcastle and Berwick, the line consists of only two tracks. This means any high-speed services – which could reach up to 125mph – must compete for space alongside local rail services and freight. As a result, punctuality is steadily declining, and hold-ups caused by other trains is the biggest single cause of delay. Given that the line last saw major investment three decades ago, investment is well overdue to make it faster and more resilient. 

To improve the resilience and reliability and cope with the predicted demand, more capacity is needed on the ECML. The line is currently restricted to 6 passenger trains per hour (2 to London, 2 to Yorkshire and the North West and 2 to the West Midlands and South West). A further limited stop London train is also operated during some hours. There are plans to introduce a 3rd London service but this will mean losing some connectivity to the North West or West Midlands or both. In order to restore these connections interventions are needed to enable 7 or 8 trains to run in the future. The government’s Integrated Rail Plan includes such interventions and planning work is underway to develop the schemes to enable this uplift to hopefully happen toward the end of the 2020’s. 

These uplifts are also required to enable the North East to benefit from the future Northern Powerhouse rail services and a future HS2 services in due course.  

Cross Country train

The North East Rail and Metro Strategy 

The North East Joint Transport Committee approved the first North East Rail and Metro Strategy which outlines our region’s ambitions for these modes up to 2035. 

Rail plays an important part in the day-to-day lives of many local people. Some of the main actions which the region will take forward include: 

  • Obtaining a Government commitment to increasing capacity of the East Coast Main Line for passengers and freight 
  • Extending the Tyne and Wear Metro, upgrading existing rail / Metro networks and adding new stations and routes – including the Leamside Line and the Northumberland Line 
  • Working with Great British Railways to form a new partnership which represents the North East, ensuring local needs are taken into account 
  • Introducing new trains – including a more efficient electric fleet on Metro and electric/battery/hydrogen local rail trains 
  • Improvements to several regional railways stations including Newcastle and Sunderland and new stations such as Gateshead East 

North East Rail and Metro Strategy

Find out more about the North East Rail and Metro Strategy

The Leamside Line

Transport North East is leading a major campaign to reopen the Leamside Line. Reopening the disused line is a key priority for the region because of the economic, social, and environmental benefits it would bring. 

The rail route – a 21 mile stretch from Gateshead, through South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham but closed since 1992 – runs through numerous areas where new jobs and housing could be stimulated by new stations, as well as taking hundreds of cars each day off some the region’s main commuter roads – improving city centre air quality and decarbonising transport. 

The line’s reopening is strongly supported by the region’s political and business leaders. 

Work on this is ongoing, see our campaign page on The Leamside Line.

The Washington Metro Loop 

The Washington Metro Loop is a proposed new extension to the Tyne and Wear Metro which forms part of the wider Business Case to re-open the Leamside Line in full. The proposed new Metro connection would run from Pelaw to South Hylton via Washington, with new stations proposed in Follingsby, Washington North and Washington South.  

The Business Case, which is part funded by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP) and Transport North East, builds on previous engineering feasibility and demand forecasting work undertaken as part of the wider suite of corridor studies funded through the Joint Transport Committee.  

On 23 January 2023, the Strategic Outline Case for the Washington Metro Loop was presented to the Minister for Transport Huw Merriman MP.  

It is predicted that the new Metro line will: 

  • Generate over £90m per year in economic benefits to the region. Each Metro taken in the region generates £11.80 for the economy 
  • Create nearly 8m additional passenger journeys a year 
  • Reduce carbon emissions by nearly 87,000 tonnes a year by replacing nearly 1.7m car journeys per year – the equivalent of over half a million trees each year 
  • Give Washington – the fourth largest town without access to a rail service – new connections to Newcastle, Sunderland and Newcastle Airport 

The Business Case forecasts that the new Washington Metro Loop will cost around £745m to deliver, which includes additional new Metro trains to support extra services on the line. The cost equates to under 1% of the overall Government commitment to the Integrated Rail Plan, which has a total cost of commitment of £96 billion across the UK. 

Follow the latest news on this here. #ReOpenLeamside #GrowTheNE 

Work is due to start in April 2023 on the next stage of development, the Outline Business Case. Nexus will be assisting Transport North East to work up in greater detail the engineering designs, the land and consents strategy, environmental assessments, ground investigations, operational considerations and reviewing the initial high-level estimates of costs and economic benefits, to maximise the value for money case that will be required to obtain government support to fund the scheme on the ground.  


The current rail freight market is subdued having undergone structural change due to changes in heavy industry and the decline of coal. However, there was a general uplift in freight use across the UK during the pandemic which may provide opportunities for future sustained growth. 

We want to enable freight to travel more sustainably by rail and to develop additional freight routing options throughout the region. We also wish to explore the potential for a freight transfer interchange.