The planned introduction of a direct line between Middlesbrough and London will be “transformational” to the town and the wider Tees Valley. That was the message from Middlesbrough MP Andy McDonald, in the new shadow rail minister’s exclusive interview with Tees Business…
McDonald joined Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench following the controversial resignation of his predecessor Jonathan Reynolds, one of three MP’s to resign their roles due to a difference of views with the Labour leader’s key policies.
Having led calls to reintroduce the route, McDonald is delighted to be in a position to influence the planned direct service between Teesside and the capital, set to be completed by 2020.
Direct trains will run from Middlesbrough and Thornaby to London as part of a new East Coast Mainline franchise, with the service run by a consortium involving Virgin Trains.
Mr McDonald, who described his new front bench position as “an honour”, said: “I can’t take it from just a purely Teesside perspective, but there are major improvements that we need to see and greater connectivity across our major conurbations is absolutely key.
“Additional services including a direct service between Middlesbrough and London is right up there as one of the most important ones because we are the largest conurbation across the entire UK without a direct service to the capital. We’ve got to put that right.”
Mr McDonald continued: “I lobbied very hard and made the case consistently about the gross value added to Middlesbrough that it would bring, which is very significant tens of thousands per annum.
“It will be an incredible catalyst for our economy in Middlesbrough and the wider Tees Valley. It will be transformational.
“The spec is for seven services out and six back per day, which would be a terrific boom for Teesside.
“It does mean that people can come here and do business safe in the knowledge that they can get here quickly and return back to their base quickly.
“That is a whole new ball game for our region once we’ve got the benefit of that service. The Darlington service is excellent but it’s that immediacy of connection that makes all the difference in the world.”
With Virgin East Coast having said the direct service will be in place in just four years time, Mr McDonald says he is now keep a close eye on developments to ensure they remain on track.
He said: “The delivery date is 2020. Virgin East Coat have committed to that and we’ve got to make sure it happens.
“As I’m pretty ambitious I wanted it sooner. I’ve done a lot of work on Virgin to try to accelerate the timescale, but time will tell if I’ve been successful.
“Naturally, it’s dependent on Virgin East Coast making sure it happens. They have got to prepare for it, of course, and I will be monitoring the situation.
“Darlington and Stockton was the home of railways, and unfortunately some of our rolling stock and infrastructure is showing signs of its origin. We need to see that refreshed.
“We could be so much more effective if we had that better connectivity here so there’s lots of work to do.”
Meanwhile, McDonald said he was liaising with Network Rail towards making some progress with the long-standing structural damage that has meant that the car park and a key entrance to Middlesbrough Railway Station has remained closed for the past two years.
The closure, which causes inconvenience for passengers, is a result of the car park structurally failing over supporting arches, meaning it cannot support its own weight.
Mr McDonald said it was imperative to make urgent progress not only to get the car park reopened but to improve first impressions rail passengers have when arriving in Middlesbrough.
He added: “This is the second busiest station in the Tees Valley but the frontage that butts on to Zetland Road has been closed since January 2014 and it’s now January 2016. That’s unacceptable that’s the place we’re still in.
“I’m pressing Network Rail and we’re going to see some progress and some elements of the renewal programme will go ahead – though I have to say I have residual disappointments and frustrations about it.
“We’ve got a wonderful opportunity there. It’s a magnificent façade, it’s a listed building, but it could be so much more of an entrance and celebration of Middlesbrough.
“There should be a sense of a place that it’s a city centre that people are stepping into. It’s more than just a railway station – it’s a portal into our town. This presents us with an opportunity to change the perception and we should make sure that’s realised.”