A transport chief insists now is the “absolutely the right time” to push on with the Tyne and Wear Metro’s £745m extension to Washington, despite the economic crisis.
Spiralling inflation and major public spending cuts expected in the coming years should deter North East leaders from pressing their case for the Government to fund the major expansion of the network, Nexus managing director Martin Kearney says.
Finally taking the Metro to Washington has been one of the region’s key ambitions for years and would restore trains to a town that is the fourth largest in the UK without any rail services whatsoever.
Plans unveiled in November would use part of the disused Leamside railway line to create a ‘Washington Metro Loop’ connecting to existing stations at Pelaw and South Hylton – with three new stations being built for Follingsby, Washington North and Washington South.
The project remains in the relatively early stages of development but, in spite of the economic turmoil engulfing the nation, Mr Kearney is keen for progress as quickly as possible.
He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We just need to get it done. It might take a good few years to get there, but the longer we wait the farther it is away.”
Asked if pursuing the £745m scheme was a realistic ambition in the current climate, he added: “It doesn’t matter whether it is this Government or a future Government, in the current economic climate it is absolutely the right time. The [new] infrastructure and projects for growth is how we come out of the economic situation we are in.
“Now is the right time, more than ever, to be making the case for the Washington Loop. Look at the growth, look at the jobs, look at the opportunities, look at the connections it creates.”
A report published last month stated that the Washington Metro Loop would deliver £90m per year in economic benefits and reduce carbon emissions by over 86,000 tonnes annually by replacing up to 1.7 million car journeys.
A more ambitious version of the Metro extension plans would also create a new line between Tyne Dock and Boldon, allowing passengers to travel directly between South Shields and Sunderland without needing to go to Pelaw to switch trains.
However, this is not currently deemed to deliver sufficient value for money and could take the overall costs to more than £1bn.