We Must Keep on Track for Future Business; the Future of the East Coast Mainline Will This Week Be Discussed in Newcastle as the Government Moves Torward Re-Franchising the Line. Mark Stephenson, North East Chamber of Commerce Policy and Research Manager, Gives His View

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Byline: Mark Stephenson

WHEN it comes to regional railway credentials, the North East punches above its weight.

Whether it's George Stephenson's pioneering work on the world's first public railway on the Darlington to Stockton line, or Aycliffe housing Hitachi as they manufacture the future of the country's rolling stock, we have a proud history of railway heritage.

However, when it comes to rail links, we have very few lines carrying passengers in and out of the region. While the Trans-Pennine express and Newcastle to Carlisle route are well utilised and much-valued, it is the East Coast Main Line (ECML) that carries by far the majority of our commuters and freight.

The 393-mile-long ECML is the key electrified high-speed railway linking the North East with London. It is a key transport artery on the eastern side of Britain, carrying passengers and enabling the movement of freight. It is a link to domestic as well as international markets and is as such vital for businesses.

The ECML is a vital link to key markets for North East businesses, but it is facing growing pressure from increased use. Significant investment is required to ensure it keeps pace with demand from both travellers and freight shipments in the coming years and decades.

Without this additional funding the North East could potentially lose connectivity to markets outside of the region.

The Government announced an extra PS240m investment in the ECML during 2012 and the 2013 Spending Review added to this. This money will be crucial in helping to ensure that the ECML continues to function to a satisfactory standard, especially given the forecasted increase in passenger numbers and resulting pressure it is expected to face in the coming years.

Furthermore, upgrades that will take place as part of the building of a high-speed rail network will also improve service frequency on the route, so with passenger numbers set to continue growing this will be crucial - even if added trains will increase pressure on the line at key pinch points.

The ECML franchise process currently taking place is now at a critical stage and is a precious opportunity to ensure that whoever takes on the next contract is bound to world-class levels of operational and service standards.

This in turn will secure the quality and reputation of the route for businesses for which it is a huge asset in the North East.

Passengers are also more demanding nowadays too, they look for more than just the regularity of service, parking at stations or the chances of avoiding a hen party to York in a table seat. It is also essential to maintain the highest standards of catering possible on long journeys, including the serving of hot dishes. …