Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has welcomed the first of LNER’s Azuma trains calling at Middlesbrough station as part of critical driver training.
The existing platform 2 has been extended by 75 metres in the first phase of a £34m station upgrade, to accommodate the Azuma trains – built at Hitachi Rail’s factory 20 miles away in Newton Aycliffe – ahead of LNER bringing its Middlesbrough to London service into operation from December.
The week-long driver training will ensure the smooth operation of the new service when it opens to passengers.
Now the platform extension is complete, work will turn to the next phases of the scheme, with major customer service improvements at the station including opening up the dilapidated station undercroft to provide a new entrance into the station subway and newly refurbished shops and office units.
There will also be upgrades to the road to the front of the station, improving access between the station and the town centre. A further phase will see a new platform 3 built to the north of platform 2 to increase train capacity within the station.
Mayor Houchen said: “Now that we’ve delivered the extended platform at Middlesbrough station, it’s great to see LNER moving forward with getting their drivers trained so we can give local people the service to the capital they’ve been crying out for.
“This is even more important as our businesses recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and start to once again visit major cities such as London, Manchester and York on business, securing opportunities and helping them to grow and create good-quality, well-paid jobs for local people.
“The improved connection will also help drive forward investment from the capital into our region as we continue to shout about all of the benefits of being based here, including the UK’s largest Freeport just a few miles down the road.
“Big and small, we’re driving forward with upgrades across the network in all of our boroughs so we can give people the more reliable, faster services that they deserve.”
LNER managing director David Horne said: “Thanks to investment in Middlesbrough Station, we are working to introduce an inaugural Middlesbrough-London service from December 2021, and a regular service in the coming years, to better connect the heart of the Tees Valley with the capital.
“I encourage all interested parties to comment on the proposed East Coast Main Line timetable public consultation that is currently under way.”
This is the first significant public investment in a Tees Valley railway station since the opening of James Cook University Hospital Station in 2014.
The completion of the platform works come just days after a planning application was submitted to Darlington Council over the transformation of the town’s railway station, and joins investment in other stations including Eaglescliffe, Hartlepool and Teesside Airport.
Matt Rice, Network Rail’s route director in the North and East, said: “Working collaboratively, and at pace, has been the key to getting platform 2 extended in good time to allow the driver training for the London-bound trains to begin.
“This, along with the next stage of improvements at Middlesbrough and elsewhere, will ultimately provide a better rail experience for the people of Teesside and we’re delighted to be able to continue to support the aspirations of Mayor Houchen and the Tees Valley Combined Authority for the region.”
Middlesbrough mayor Andy Preston added: “We need and deserve direct trains to London and this positive development is another sign that, finally, it’s actually happening.”