PLANS to reinstate a steam rail link in Northumberland have been given the green light by funders.
The Aln Valley Railway Trust has received grants of around £160,000 from three sources towards its long running project to re-establish a train service from Alnwick to Alnmouth.
The line linking the two communities was built in 1850 but closed in 1968.
The idea of reopening it was first mooted in 1995 but the trust suffered a series of delays and false dawns, including a failed bid for Heritage Lottery funding and a five-year hold-up caused by a rival bid to have the old route designated as a public footpath.
The project finally got back on track when a full planning application for the project was approved by Northumberland County Council last July.
Now the trust has received funding which will allow it to kick start the scheme.
It has been given £129,000 by the Leader programme and a further £30,000 from trust president and owner of the land on which the railway will be located, the Duke of Northumberland and his estates.
The money from the estates is for the first year of work and further donations will be made annually.
A further grant of £300 has been received from the Procter & Gamble Charities Fund towards the development of exhibition space at the railway’s Alnwick station.
Last night, the trust’s press officer Roger Jermy said: “The Aln Valley committee was delighted to receive the news of the grants.
“It means that once the lease with the Northumberland Estates is finalised, it will be possible to make an early start on the engineering works prior to track laying.”
The project proposes laying 2.3 miles of track for steam trains from the current Alnmouth station, linked to the East Coast main line; to a new station, visitor centre, educational facilities and park and ride beside Alnwick’s Lionheart Enterprise Park. The scheme is designed to bring more visitors to Alnwick, potentially taking the number of tourists visiting the district to over a million a year.
There will also be more jobs through increased tourism and in the building and running of the line, which will also be a commuter route.
The trust has already acquired steam and diesel locomotives which it is currently renovating at bases at Wooler and Longhoughton.
It is likely to be five to six years before the line is fully open.
In the long term the trust has aspirations of building a lightweight bridge across the A1 to bring trams into Alnwick, and on to the Alnwick Garden, and of running commuter trains directly from the town to Newcastle.
Bosses are meanwhile still in discussions with Northumberland County Council’s highways department over the creation of a new road link to the Alnwick station.
Pending the lease issue, they have been given a licence by the estates to allow them access to carry out remedial work.