There was a rather useful seminar yesterday at Gateshead Council for members about rail services in the North East. One of the senior officers from Nexus was there to talk us through rail issues and how they are likely to impact on the North East economy. I think it is fair to say that rail systems in the North East are at the limit of their capacity and without investment, they will deteriorate and be unable to operate fully. This could have a major effect on business activity as it will be harder to move good and people around the region.
There are a number of pinch points but the 2 most significant ones are the state of the Metro in Tyne and Wear and the East Coast Mainline being dependent on only two tracks.
It is estimated that by 2025, there will only be 66 Metrocars left running on the Metro. That would require a peak service reduction of up to 30%. The rolling stock, now nearly 40 years old, is already causing problems with frequent breakdowns. The government has accepted the case for replacing the fleet. The issue is how this should be paid for. A decision is needed soon. It turns out that off-the-shelf trains cannot be used on the Metro as the tunnels are smaller than most other equivalent systems. The new fleet will have to be specially designed and built for the Metro. That means getting the contract sorted soon or else we wont have the new fleet in time for 2025.
The East Coast Mainline suffers from having only two tracks through the region. It means Intercity high speed trains have to share the tracks with slower commuter and freight trains. The line is at capacity now so cannot accept extra services. New capacity is needed but the government has only agreed to take HS2 as far as Leeds. High speed trains travelling further north will have to use existing track. There will be no additional capacity in the region. This is likely to restrict future economic development.
There is much to ponder but had Labour not mucked up devolution in the North East, we would at least have a strong political voice to put the regions concerns and needs to ministers.