HARTLEPOOL could have a direct train route to London by the end of the year.
And the town's council chiefs have welcomed the plan as a major boost to tourism and the economy.
Hartlepool has been left isolated because of a string of recent cutbacks in rail services.
But now one rail company is set to make a bid to operate a direct route from Sunderland to London, via Hartlepool.
The first cuts came in September 2003 when trains between the town and Newcastle went from half-hourly to hourly. In May last year, direct services from Hartlepool to York were cancelled.
And the axe fell again last month when the Strategic Rail Authority, the rail regulator, scrapped the 7am Newcastle-Middlesbrough-Manchester Airport train.
But now Grand Central Railway wants to put the town back on the map, handing residents a three and a half hour direct link to London, that would cost at most 50 return.
The matter has been raised in a report to a Hartlepool Borough Council regeneration and planning meeting to be held this Wednesday.
It said: "The town currently has some of the poorest rail services in the last 30 years.
"The Grand Central proposals would compensate for the loss of direct rail links from Hartlepool and revive the use of Hartlepool station.
"They would be a major boost to tourism and economic development."
The company lodged their application with Network Rail in October 2004 and a formal bid will be made to operate the service next month.
If the green light is given to the plans, the trains would start running in December this year.
The regeneration and planning portfolio will also decide whether the council should lobby rail bosses to make sure Central Railway's plans are given the thumbs-up.