If you’ve been in the centre of Newcastle recently, you’ll have seen that there is a real buzz about the place.
The area around the Central Railway Station has had a long overdue tidy up, and new developments are all around.
The confidence of hotel companies is always a good indicator of economic health, and there’s a new Hilton Hampton about to open just opposite the station, and a Crowne Plaza due to open its doors in a few months’ time.
The portico at the station entrance has had a splendid refurbishment, and there is now a glass enclosed space instead of the tatty and draughty original.
It’s not perfect yet, but the station is becoming a vibrant spot with things to do even if you are not catching a train.
As you can see in the picture, there’s a lovely quirky idea where the local Rotary Club have installed a piano where you can chip in to local charity funds when you “play a tune for the toon”.
There’ll also be a regular crafts market on the station concourse soon, and this idea of the transport hub becoming a modern village square is really taking off.
On a large scale, just look at the superb stations in London at St Pancras and its neighbour, our own King’s Cross, the gateway to north east England and Scotland.
Where Newcastle still fails is in the lack of escalators and lifts – a real nuisance for wheelchair users or people with limited mobility.
What we often forget in our region is that we are fairly compact, and, on a London scale, Hartlepool and Newcastle are near-neighbours.
I’ve often done a turn at events in the capital where the thousands of attendees are staying across a wide spread of London hotels.
If a delegate is only an hour or so of travel from the main conference, that’s considered to be perfectly fine.
By the same token, a major national conference in Newcastle could use places like Hartlepool, and points between, to increase the number of hotel beds on offer.
When I have meetings in Newcastle, I often take the local train and leave the car at home.
If you have used the service, you will know that it only takes about 45 minutes, but the rolling stock is awful.
It’s well documented that the creaky old Pacer trains are outdated and uncomfortable, shaky and noisy, and simply not good enough.
After decades of promises, the latest story is that these rubbishy vehicles could be replaced by old and outdated former Tube trains from London.
There’s nothing like showing respect to a region – and that’s certainly nothing like showing respect.
I’ve often been on local trains from London to destinations around Brighton, Cambridge and East Anglia (comparable Hartlepool to Newcastle distances) and their trains are modern, clean and quietly comfortable.
The other obvious snag for our local service is that the last train is quite early in the evening – totally useless for Hartlepool people going to a concert or whatever in Newcastle, or vice versa.
I made the mistake of fixing a Newcastle meeting during the recent school half term and the increased traffic meant that the two carriage boneshaker was full and many of us had the joy of standing for the full journey.
The actual trip passes alongside the sea for much of its route with splendid views, but standing on a packed train with basic suspension and squealing brakes is not how it should be.
If only it could be better – the lack of quality regional infrastructure is still a massive own goal.