A long-running project to restore a historic rail link is full steam ahead after being officially opened by the Duke of Northumberland.
For almost 20 years, volunteers have worked towards the reopening of Aln Valley Railway, which provided a link between Alnwick and Alnmouth up until 1968.
Their efforts were officially rewarded yesterday when the Duke opened the railway at the Alnwick Lionheart station site.
The ceremony was attended by special guests including Berwick MP Sir Alan Beith and Jack Forsyth - the last surviving driver on the original line.
Joe Hedley, who is a trustee of the railway, has been working on the project for 16 years.
“Before I got involved I had a full head of hair and no children,” he said. “We’ve got a good collection of locomotives, including two steam engines and three diesel engines.
“One of the engines belongs to the creator of the Viz comics, Chris Donald. We’ve completed the platforms but we need to secure further funding in order to extend the track.
“I’ve been involved at various stages of the project, from helping with membership and gift aid to writing submissions for the railway in its early days.
“Now I finally get to enjoy laying the track and seeing the whole thing come together. Today is a momentous occasion.”
The line linking the two communities was built in 1850 but closed in 1968. The project to reinstate it was set up in 1995.
After a series of setbacks, including failed funding bids and a rival proposal to designate the route of the line as a path, those involved managed to secure the land for the railway from the duke, the necessary planning permission, finance and rolling stock.
Work began on the project around a year ago, with track being laid at the Alnwick end of the line. A museum has been constructed along with a cafe and model railway.
The duke said the volunteers should be commended for their hard-work and determination in getting the project to this stage.
“I think it’s great,” he said. “It has the potential to be a fantastic new tourist attraction for Alnwick and should make a good contribution to the local economy in due course.
“The whole thing is very exciting and it’s fantastic for this team of 40 or more volunteers who have single-handedly seen this project through to fruition.”
The original Alnwick to Alnmouth line opened in 1850 to both passenger and freight traffic. It was closed on cost grounds in 1968 and the track was lifted shortly afterwards.
The Aln Valley Trust is reopening the branch in stages.