The site of the former railway station at Gilsland. The old station house is now a private property and is not part of the current plans. *Photo: Jim Davis.
A DREAM scheme to re-open a former railway station in the heart of Hadrian’s Wall Country could cost up to £28m.
But campaigners insist the project, to revive the station at Gilsland which closed five decades ago, remains possible.
They believe the station, which was a victim of the Beeching cuts in the 1960s, holds the key to unlocking the potential for tourism in an area currently short on public transport.
Now in a newly-published report, Network Rail has concluded that the project is feasible, with an estimated 25,000 trips per year starting and finishing at Gilsland.
Of those, 15,000 of the passengers would be tourists, with walkers and sightseers expected to flock to a picturesque area with new rail links to Carlisle, Haltwhistle, Hexham and Newcastle.
A big obstacle, however, is the cost of turning the economy-boosting initiative into reality.
Network Rail’s feasibility study says that recreating the station with platforms, a car park and other infrastructure, will cost around £25m.
An extra £3.1m to allow for inflation over the next four years will bring the total to £28m.
Of that, £2.3m would be spent on project design and management; £2.7m on civil engineering; £4.1m on signalling and railway control systems, and a further £1.5m on contractors and overheads.
The management of key risks –which could include significant work at other level crossings to ensure safety is not compromised elsewhere along the Tyne Valley Line – adds up to a further £8.4m.
Other costs include almost £1m on building and property; as well as other expenditure on electrics, telecommunications, and preliminary work.
Members of the Campaign to Open Gilsland Station (COGS) group attended a meeting at County Hall in Morpeth last Friday, where the report was presented by Network Rail.
Other interested parties who are backing the campaign were present, including Northumberland County Council, and Hexham’s MP Guy Opperman.
The COGS group has been campaigning for the past three years, and had previously thought the overall project would cost just £2.5m.
The group’s Julie Gibbon said Network Rail had been asked to review requirements for the station, to establish what work was absolutely necessary, in a bid to drive down costs.
In addition, campaigners have asked the North East Combined Authority, and the Local Enterprise Partnership, to sponsor the project, providing funding which would enable a business case to be put forward.
Mr Opperman believes money could potentially be saved if the new station meant five existing level crossings, either side of the Cumbrian border were no longer needed; while Network Rail’s own New Stations Fund could be tapped into.
He added: “We feel we can bring the figure down dramatically.
“The cost of constructing any railway station costs millions of pounds, but do we gold plate it because modern railway standards are so high?”
“We need to look at what work really is essential, but we still believe we are further forward in obtaining a new station at Gilsland.
“We need to keep working to persuade the various parties to come together and have a real assessment of whether all of these matters are as costly as the report says.”
Malcolm Chainey, chairman of the Tyne Valley Rail Users Group, said: “No public authority can spend £28m on a small railway station.
“There are a lot of elements to the cost, and there are ways of driving down those costs.”
Mr Chainey said the campaign could take heart from the fact that railway stations had opened elsewhere for considerably less money.
Network Rail’s feasibility study concluded: “The re-instatement of the former station at Gilsland is feasible.
“The proposed site lends itself well to the construction of a station, car park and other associated features.
“The existing underpass (part of the original station) immediately to the west of the site could be adapted for use as an accessible route between platforms.”