MASSIVE machines moved into North Tyneside on Friday in a bid to complete the final underpass crossing the new Northumberland railway line.

The line, which currently carries freight trains, had to be shut for a total of 100 hours as engineering teams worked round the clock to install the 400-tonne concrete structures.

A self-propelled modular transporter (SPMT) – a giant multi-wheeled trailer used for transporting massive objects from large bridge sections to spacecraft – was used in the construction, with the project set to be completed on Tuesday.

The current crossing had to be dug out before the SPMT underpass sections are put into place. The line will then be re-laid on top, with the underpass joining an existing footpath under the nearby Tyne and Wear Metro line.

The project had proved expensive, coming in at £4.5m – but speaking as work to put the underpass in place got underway on Friday, Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson explained why it was necessary.

He said: “It was the only option. It would have been unsafe to leave the foot crossing in place.

“Safety was the top priority we have over anything else. The whole scheme is £150m, it’s a significant cost but it has been a fantastic partnership between the council, the Government, the North of Tyne Combined Authority and contractor Morgan Sindall.

“This is another great milestone for the scheme and the scale of the technology and equipment being used is really something to see.

“Day and night work is taking place to bring this fantastic line back into passenger use and these are key parts of the infrastructure to ensure it’s a smooth and safe experience for everyone.”

Cllr Sanderson also confirmed that the hope remained that the line would be open to passengers by next summer.

It had previously been hoped the Northumberland Line would be open by this winter, but transport secretary Mark Harper confirmed earlier this year that the target had been pushed back.

The project marks the final underpass to be installed on the route. During the operation some 2,500 cubic metres of material was excavated before the three-part underpass is installed and backfilled with 1,750 cubic metres of earth.

The long-awaited Northumberland Line will see passenger rail reinstated between Tyneside and Ashington for the first time since the 1960s, connecting communities in the south-east of the county with Newcastle and North Tyneside. It is hoped that it will also deliver a boost to the North East economy.