Global infrastructure services firm AECOM and its partner SLC Rail have completed the Strategic Outline Business Case (SOBC) for re-opening the passenger rail line between Newcastle and Ashington via Blyth for Northumberland County Council. The SOBC, which outlines the project’s wider economic impacts such as housing and job opportunities, includes a number of alternative delivery and funding model options for reinstating the line. This work will now inform the next phase of the project, which includes a market engagement exercise to secure the best value capital and operating costs for the proposed line and help attract public and private investment for the scheme.
Reinstating the Northumberland Line will involve upgrading an existing operational freight line to enable direct passenger services between South East Northumberland and Newcastle Central. The proposal includes a number of new stations that will link towns to key areas of employment, training and leisure, which could boost the local economy by up to £70m.
This next phase of the project will be delivered by Perfect Circle, a consortium comprising Pick Everard, Gleeds and AECOM, on behalf of Scape Group’s Built Environment Consultancy (BECS) framework. Scape is a public sector organisation dedicated to creating ongoing efficiency and social value via the built environment. Consortium partner AECOM will continue to work with SLC Rail to deliver the next phase of the scheme. The team is providing technical consultancy, business case development, project management and modelling services for the scheme.
With the SOBC now complete, the delivery team will further develop the potential funding and delivery models and seek wider market engagement to develop a detailed outline business case and help attract the third party public and private sector funding needed to accelerate delivery of the scheme. The detailed outline business case will also inform potential inclusion of the scheme within the North East Transforming Cities Fund submission, an initiative announced by government last year that will allocate funding to upgrade public transport links in city regions.
Northumberland County Council leader Peter Jackson said: “We have always supported this ambitious proposal to help secure future jobs and growth across the whole county.
“The reintroduction of passenger services on the existing freight only line has been an aspiration of the County Council for many years and fits with key local and regional policy in terms of promoting economic growth across South East Northumberland.
“It’s important we maintain momentum with the development and the next stage which will include design work, business case refinement, a detailed highways impact assessment and a range of engineering and ecology work.”
Russell Jackson, Head of Rail – Europe, Middle East and Africa, AECOM, said: “This scheme is not just about delivering an infrastructure project. By focusing on its broader economic benefits and through early engagement with stakeholders to explore exciting new delivery options, we’re building a compelling case that will help push this much-needed project forward. The private and public sector increasingly need to work together to get key schemes off the ground and we hope this project will be a successful template for how to deliver future rail enhancements.”
Ian Walters, Managing Director, SLC Rail said: “Government is now strongly encouraging councils to lead rail schemes themselves, with its ‘Rail Network Enhancements Pipeline’ process announced in 2018, and Network Rail’s ‘Open for Business’ initiative supporting this. The SLC Rail team has a 20 year history of enabling local authorities to deliver new rail services and stations, and we are delighted to be working with Northumberland County Council to progress re-opening of the Northumberland Line.”
Northumberland County Council aims to submit the outline business case for the scheme by the end of this year, with passenger services planned for 2022.