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Railwatch 080 - July 1999

North East

ByJohn Bourn

Station survey Branch vice-chair Martin Murphy recently co-ordinated a station survey with the assistance of several local members. Fifty three stations were visited, most unstaffed, and the main findings were that too many stations were dilapidated and rundown, sometimes lacking in information, and not always presenting a positive image of rail travel. The branch is suggesting adopt-a-station schemes, measures to convert station buildings into shops and tourist bureaux which could sell tickets and give information, and the formation of a Tyne Valley Line Users Group. One interesting finding from the survey is that, at many stations, it is hard to establish just who is responsible for the station upkeep! Residual notices referring to British Rail or Regional Railways North-East are not helpful.

Facelift for Hexham With support from Railtrack and the Railway Heritage Trust, Northern Spirit recently completed improvements at Hexham. Haltwhistle too is looking much sprucer with the station yard upgraded and turned into office units and a Tourist Information Centre in the old station house.

FreightHexham's station yard, which lost its freight service with the demise of Speedlink, is now being used to load timber traffic. Elsewhere in the region, there are plans to carry car traffic from the rail-served shipping terminal at Tyne Dock and facilities at Tyne Yard are being upgraded, with a new wash plant and carriage maintenance facility being built, to cater for former RES traffic now using the site.

Nelson's visionChester-le-Street, a halt on the East Coast main line between Newcastle and Durham, served by Northern Spirit local services, perhaps does not appear a promising venue for a rail revolution. Yet local entrepeneur, transport enthusiast and travel agency operator Alex Nelson is charting the way forward with his plans to re-staff the station, which would become the new base for his firm, selling local and national rail tickets and even coffee and croissants to morning commuters! Resplendent in his station-master's uniform, Mr Nelson told the winter meeting of the North-East Branch about his plans in a witty and well-informed presentation. Northern Spirit see his proposals as a way of breathing life into a rundown and underused station.

Metro mayhem Athough it remains the most reliable urban railway system in the UK, the Metro has suffered some misfortune recently, with delays and breakdowns owing to overhead wire problems, vandalism and in one instance, a Newcastle United footballer crashing his Porsche into a train on a level crossing! (without injury, fortunately). Local politicians have set the Metro a break-even target by 2001, resulting in fare increases, and branch members have pointed out that this hardly fits in with the current strategy to encourage more use of public transport. On a more positive note, Metro chiefs are pursuing a programme to improve some of the shabbier stations on the system. West Monkseaton recently received a facelift and now work is in progress at Longbenton. A new station is planned near Palmersville to serve a major new leisure and retail development nearby.

Bustitution - will they never learn? Once again, the threat of bustitution is being floated by a few misguided zealots. The branch welcomes the statement by Northern Spirit that it has no intention of withdrawing services and that declining subsidy levels were reflected in its business plan for the franchise. Nevertheless, we will remain vigilant, particularly as regards the Esk Valley Line whose rail partnership, which did so much work to promote the service, has recently been disbanded. Clearly, the more passengers using the line the better, and any RDS members visiting the region this summer are encouraged to travel on this lovely and historic route.

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