Hopefully Teessiders will elect a new Tees Valley Mayor next year. The newly-elected mayor can then start work on actual improvements to public transport on Teesside, after what will have been seven years of grandstanding, bluster, photo ops, and worthless gimmicks.
I’m going to outline a rail transport vision for the four-year period from 2024 to 2028. First of all, the new mayor could put in place a fixed 4-year budget, agreed with the new government, without a load of costly bidding, administration, policy changes, pork-barrel allocations to bribe voters before elections, and micro-management from Whitehall. Here is a list of schemes that could be completed within that timescale with an overall budget of, say, £950 million:
New stations and platforms
Build a new Park and Ride station at Pinchinthorpe, on the outskirts of Guisborough, by reinstating 3 km of the former Middlesbrough to Guisborough railway. A less ambitious scheme was announced by local MP Simon Clarke, then-Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston, and long-forgotten Redcar and Cleveland Council leader Mary Lanigan in 2019, but this was yet another cynical ‘Bob-the-Builder’ photo-op that was never intended to achieve anything.
Build additional platforms at the following stations:
Middlesbrough ►James Cook University Hospital►
by doing the following:
- Reinstate the 3rd platform at Middlesbrough, to the east of the station. This was originally planned as part of the current £34 million station refurbishment, but was quietly dropped from the project.
- Track enhancements at Middlesbrough station to permit platforms 1 and 2 to be worked as two separate platforms for shorter trains, thus effectively creating five platforms in total.
- Build a new 2nd platform at James Cook University Hospital.
- Reinstate the 3rd platform at Redcar Central, to the west of the station. This was formerly known as the ‘Excursion’ platform.
- Reinstate the 3rd platform at Hartlepool, to the west of the station.
- Reinstate the 3rd platform at Saltburn to the north of the station. This would involve the compulsory purchase of a small strip of ex-railway land currently owned by Sainsburys.
- Build the 3 long-promised additional platforms at Darlington. This project has been announced by the TVCA several times. The last time was in February 2023, just before the local elections, predictably enough. But they’ve also cancelled the project several times, and in my view Ben Houchen can’t be relied on to deliver it. The February project update featured the demolition of buildings outside the station perimeter, but no actual construction within it – classic Ben.
- Electrify two lines – Darlington to Saltburn and Eaglescliffe to Northallerton – 66 km of track in total.
- Reinstate two short four-track railway sections between Tees Port and Bowesfield junction in Stockton to allow separation of passenger and freight trains for the entire route. A total of 4 km of double track would need to be re-instated.
- ‘Loading gauge enhancement’ on the Eaglescliffe to Northallerton line to allow larger freight containers to be carried.
- Replacement of Yarm Road underbridge at Middleton St George so that trains speeding from Darlington to Saltburn don’t need to slow down to a crawl over the bridge.
Who would benefit?
A metro-style service of one train every 15 minutes between Darlington and Saltburn, instead of every 30 minutes at present, with a 15-minute reduction in journey time over the entire route.
Trains between Hartlepool and Nunthorpe, which are already planned to have a 40-minute frequency when the 2nd Hartlepool platform opens in a few weeks time, would be stepped up to run at 20-minute intervals, and would be extended to and from Guisborough. So, for example, Guisborough and Nunthorpe commuters to Middlesbrough and James Cook University Hospital would have a service frequency of 20 minutes in both directions.
North of Hartlepool, every 2nd train would continue to and from Newcastle, giving a service frequency of one train every 40 minutes. This is already planned for when the 2nd Hartlepool platform opens.
Inter City passengers
Azuma trains from Middlesbrough to London Kings Cross would run entirely on electric power, instead of relying on diesel traction between Middlesbrough to Northallerton. These trains are noticeably quieter when running on electricity. The completion of electrification of the Teesside section of the Transpennine route would complement existing work to electrify the route between York and Manchester, meaning that services between Saltburn and Manchester Airport would be able to run entirely under electric power
Freight trains from Tees Port connecting to the East Coast Main Line ECML) would run on an electrified line, on dedicated tracks through the busiest section, allowing them to reach the ECML at either Darlington or Northallerton in 30 minutes. The 3rd connection to the ECML at Ferryhill, although non-electrified, would also benefit from the track enhancements in Teesside. All of this would lead to a much faster and more reliable service, and a reduction in costs for freight users.
Finally, a reminder of the vast amounts of cash that Ben Houchen has burned instead of spending it on real things: The list isn’t exhaustive, and you can probably think of some of your own:
- £60 million given to property developers as their 50% share of a final total of £120 million in scrap metal recovered from Redcar Steelworks
- £60 million on a small regional airport that nobody uses. This is an estimate – the true cost could be far greater than this, but Ben Houchen deliberately obfuscates information about Teesside Airport.
- £40 million giveaway of the income stream from SeAH factory site.
- £34 million on the Middlesbrough railway station refurbishment, which began under former mayor Dave Budd in 2016 with a budget of only £2.7 million. A 900% cost increase such as this is known as ‘gold plating’ in the construction trade.
- £15 million of land at South Bank Quay given to property developers for free.
- £4.5 million on Teesflex, a ‘Bus’ service that could easily be provided by private taxi firms.
- £4 million (including legal fees) to re-locate the illegally-built ‘Magic Roundabout’ at South Bank Quay.
- £2.5 million on the Kim Jong Un tribute – the Teesworks Gateway at Redcar.