East Coast Main Line looking to the site of Butterwell open cast mine

North East England reactivates former coal handling terminal

It’s a case of aggregates to Newcastle. Part of the North East’s former coal mining infrastructure is set to reenter service in a new capacity. A local aggregates handling company wants to reuse Butterwell coal processing terminal, which formerly served the nearby Linton Colliery, to receive train loads of building materials for local use. The terminal lies adjacent to the East Coast Main Line, just north of Morpeth in Northumberland.

In a significant move that underscores the usefulness of retained rail freight infrastructure, planning permission has been granted to reactivate the former Butterwell coal disposal point as a state-of-the-art aggregates terminal. Situated just off the East Coast Main Line (ECML) north of Morpeth, the reimagined site will serve as a hub for the processing and distribution of primary aggregates, while also accommodating spoil and aggregate recycling. With approximately three trains per week expected to loads from Scotland or the East Midlands, the project holds promise for the region’s rail freight industry.

Significant for potential future traffic

Dating back to its establishment in 1977, the Butterwell site played a pivotal role as a purpose-built disposal point, facilitating the efficient processing and onward transportation of millions of tonnes of coal extracted from local opencast sites over its four-decade-long operation. Now, the reactivated site, under the stewardship of the new applicants, is set to generate skilled jobs and provide employment opportunities in an area targeted by the UK government’s levelling up policy of improving the economic outlook for underperforming regions.

Map showing location of Butterwell junction on the East Coast Main Line near Morpeth
Map showing location of Butterwell junction on the East Coast Main Line near Morpeth

An auxiliary advantage of utilising the branch at Butterwell, also known as the Harworth Estates line, for transhipment of train loads, is the operational upkeep of the rail link, including its main line connection. The preservation is of significance for potential future traffic to Ashington, Blyth and Tyneside, marketed as the Northumberland Line. That project will see the resumption of passenger train services on the southern part of the branch line, between Blyth and Newcastle, scheduled for 2024. The rejuvenated rail link will enhance regional connectivity and provide improved transportation options for both freight and passenger services.

Favourable reception from planning

Although not part of this proposal, a fully reinstated Harworth Estates (Ashington to Butterwell) line would offer a shorter and most direct rail link between Ashington, the Port of Blyth, and the ECML. That connection holds benefits, principally for future freight operations and, with the installation of a north facing chord at Butterworth, the possibility of direct northbound passenger services.

Locomotive hauling potash bulk train through Slateford station in Edinburgh
This potash train, heading for Alcan Blyth is the nearest the branch comes to freight traffic, but if tracks were reinstated it could traverse Butterwell Junction (image Simon Walton)

The inclusion of a recycling plant in the planning application has contributed to the favourable reception from the local planning authority. Some objections have been raised, regarding potential impacts on air quality, the disruption of the area’s tranquility, perceived lack of consultation with locals, and the anticipated increase in traffic have been expressed. However, if plans are fully realised, the site will also establish a recycling facility for processing construction and demolition waste products back into valuable aggregates. In a north-east take on the circular economy, it’s almost coals back to Newcastle.

Autor/a Simon Walton

Fuente: RailFreight.com