COUNCIL leaders have lobbied the Government in an effort to bridge a £260m shortfall in funding earmarked to improve the East Coast Mainline (ECML).

The Department for Transport (DfT) has set aside £240m for upgrades on the line, including better signalling and improving trains’ reliability.

The rail industry says it will take an investment of £500m to bring the line up to 21st Century standards.

Countless commuters use the line – which runs from Edinburgh to London – each year and there is widespread agreement that improvements will boost the region’s economy.

A delegation made up of councillors from authorities, whose patch the line runs through, met with transport minister Simon Burns on Tuesday (December 11).

Bill Dixon, leader of Darlington Borough Council, was part of the delegation, representing the Tees Valley, along with York Council leader James Alexander and Newcastle Council cabinet member Henri Murison (CORR).

Coun Dixon said: “We were looking at ways to increase the pot up towards the £500m mark.

“It was an excellent meeting and we agreed that the local authorities would go away and put together a business case and try to identify the capital to put into the programme.”

Among the issues discussed in the meeting were mainline trains having to share track with commuter services and having to slow down at certain times, both of which can have an impact on reliability.

Coun Dixon added: “The problem with the ECML is that about 13 per cent of the traffic is late on arrival, the largest figure anywhere on the network – we need to get that down.

“We are not necessarily looking at extra trains, just getting the ones that do run to run on time.”

The issue of the running of the ECML franchise was discussed, but it is understood the DfT will not move on that until the furore over the awarding of West Coast Mainline franchise dies down.

The DfT announced in August the First Group had been awarded the contract, prompting a legal challenge from Richard Branson’s Virgin company.

Transport minister Simon Burns said: “We have experienced unprecedented growth in the popularity of rail travel in recent years, which is why we are investing in increasing capacity across the entire network.

“It is vital that passengers using the ECML benefit from this, which is why we have committed £240m in the future of this line.

“The meeting was very infomative and productive and I look forward to seeing the ideas they generate for improving services on the line.”