This week in Westminster I sat down with Paul Maynard the Trains Minister to discuss the Gilsland Station rebuild project. This follows on extensive discussions with Network Rail and Northern rail. As everyone at the Campaign to Reopen Gilsland Station [COGS] knows this is a long journey. The many steps along the way can be charted here:
But the overall objective is keenly supported by locals, by the train company who would like to see it happen, local MPs and more and more of the key stakeholders.
The problem as always has been the cost. If one approaches this from a requirement for a state of the art, brand new station with everything attached then the original Network Rail report of £28 million + is clearly a big ask in these straightened times. However, I have been impressed by the way in which Network Rail and Northern Rail are trying to come up with innovative, and potentially more cost effective, solutions to a tough problem.
I meet again with these two organisations shortly and there is a germ of a good plan that we are working on.
We need to bolster the business case and show that the usage is there to justify the taxpayers money - whatever that sum is going to be. Critical to this is the enhanced use of the area by 4 key things:
- increased service of Gilsland as a critical hub for the two walks that meet right next to it - namely Hadrian's Wall and the Pennine Way, + the greater cycling use of the area
- the impact of the tens of thousands of extra visitors who will arrive by reason of the Sill Project that opens in the summer. How do we add to their visitor experience and increase their time in Hadrian's Wall country, with particular reference to all the diverse Heritage assets that are close by the station site?
- and the potential to support business and regeneration of the area of West Northumberland and East Cumbria that has clearly struggled under successive governments for generations
- and numbers as to the fundamental greater usage of the Tyne Valley railway, and the new station itself, to justify Northern Rail and the other support agencies getting behind the project.
We have recently met Heritage Lottery and engaged with the Northumberland Tourism Team and the Borderlands project are also supportive so I am hopeful that we are building up steam - if you forgive the pun. The critical issue is this - can we build a station at a reasonable cost that does the job without breaking a limited bank account? That is what we are seeking to do. Paul can definitely help and, whilst the devil is in the detail, he is very supportive and is taking this to the highest levels of the train food chain. I will update more after I have met with Northern and Network Rail in a couple of weeks time.