The Durham Coast Line (DCL) is the name given to the railway line which links Newcastle upon Tyne with Middlesbrough, via Sunderland and Hartlepool. The services are operated by Northern and the majority continue on from Newcastle to the MetroCentre and a few to Carlisle. It is an important diversionary route during closures on the East Coast Main Line.
The lines which make up the route were originally part of the North Eastern Railway, which became part the London and North Eastern Railway at the 1923 Grouping. The DCL comes under the aegis of the Tees Valley Rail Strategy, whose aims are to enhance services in the region. Under that scheme, Phase 1 undertaken on DCL resulted in an hourly service between Newcastle and Hartlepool from 2000; a half-hourly service was later to come into operation. Plans for Phase 2, including opening new stations, has been on hold since the Strategic Rail Authority came into being, when funding for the scheme was brought to a virtual standstill.
A halt at Greatham was downgraded to a partial service during the early 1980s and was closed on the 24 November 1991.
The section between the junction just south of Sunderland and Pelaw Junction (just south of Pelaw Metro station) is the only Network Rail route electrified at 1500V DC overhead for use by the Tyne and Wear Metro, which shares this section of the line.
Grand Central offer five daily out and back workings between Sunderland and London King's Cross. These trains only call at Hartlepool and Sunderland on the DCL but good connections can be made at Eaglescliffe (for Darlington) and York for onward travel. Sunday sees four train services in both directions.
Northern services over the DCL see trains hourly in both directions between Middlesbrough and Newcastle with some trains starting at Saltburn (on the Tees Valley line) and some starting/finishing at Metro Centre, Hexham or Carlisle.
On 14 December 2015 Virgin Trains East Coast introduced a daily return service running along the northern section of the DCL from Sunderland to London King's Cross via Newcastle that the operator has named the 'Spirit of Sunderland'. The outward working departs from Sunderland at 5:40 and calls at Newcastle, Durham , Darlington , York and Peterborough before arriving into King's Cross shortly after 9:00. The return service departs from King's Cross at 20:00 and arrives into Sunderland at 23:22.
Until 2004 a small number of TransPennine Express services operated along the northern section of the DCL as part of their service from Sunderland to Liverpool Lime Street via Newcastle, Durham, Darlington, York, Leeds and Manchester. This service was operated by Northern Spirit and subsequently Arriva Trains Northern from 1998. However, when management of the franchise was taken over by First TransPennine Express, all Transpennine services beyond Newcastle were withdrawn.
Despite the decline in the heavy industry of the North East, the DCL still retains a healthy freight service over the line, including several flows that are generated on the line in addition to several through services. Steel coil is railed into the Tata plant at Hartlepool and pipes are then taken out to Leith and the Far North of Scotland for the North Sea gas and oil industry. Spent nuclear rods are railed out for re-processing at Sellafield from Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station, Cement is delivered to Seaham docks, scrap metal is forwarded from Stockton-On-Tees to Celsa EAF works in Cardiff and Tyne Dock has a trailing connection in both directions at Boldon.
The docks at Sunderland were recently reconnected by Network Rail in anticipation of a return to rail borne traffic - this has yet to come to fruition. Despite the plethora of industrial complexes at Seal Sands, just one customer rails out hydrocarbons from Port Clarence to Cardiff.
The new Northern franchise awarded to Arriva Rail North In December 2015 will see service frequencies over the route doubled to half-hourly during the lifetime of the franchise agreement (likely from the December 2017 timetable change). There will also be improvements to rolling stock used on the line (with the removal of Pacer railbuses by 2019 & introduction of refurbished Class 158 DMUs) and more evening services than at present.
It has been a long held ambition of Durham County Council to reopen a station on the DCL between Seaham and Hartlepool to serve the communities of the south east of the county. The council investigated seven potential sites in the area but it was decided that a site adjacent to the Sea View Industrial Estate in Horden was the most suitable location for the new station. One of the key benefits of this location is its close proximity to the major town of Peterlee which means that, if constructed, it could allow 61,000 residents to benefit from improved access to employment opportunities across the region.
In September 2014 DCC said that they hoped to begin the planning process by the end of the year with the aim of starting construction in 2015 and a potential opening date in spring 2016. However, on 1 June 2015 the MP for Easington, Graham Morris asked a question in parliament regarding the expected date of completion for the new station and was informed that permission to open the station had not yet been sought from the Department for Transport.
In September 2016 DCC announced that the station project was still going ahead although a new preferred site for the station had been identified at South East View in Horden. DCC stated that the project was about to enter stage 4 of the Network Rail GRIP process once the final elements of stage 3 had been completed. The County Council ran a public consultation from 27 September to 20 October 2016 to help them develop the proposal which received over 1200 responses.