It's full steam ahead for tourist railway

Trains will begin running again on a scenic but troubled tourist railway tomorrow after an absence of 20 months.

Trains will begin running again on a scenic but troubled tourist railway tomorrow after an absence of 20 months.

Operators and majority owners of the Weardale Railway in County Durham announced yesterday that rail inspectors have given the go-ahead to passenger services re-starting.

ECT, a London-based community group which already runs a tourist railway in Devon, says the first train to run on the seven-mile stretch of track since January 2005 will leave Wolsingham station tomorrow.

Three diesel trains will run daily between Wolsingham and Stanhope until September 3. Trains will run at weekends afterwards.

Stephen Sears, ECT Group chief executive, said: "We're excited to be a partner in this project, as this offers a genuine way to boost tourism and regeneration in Weardale.

"I hope many local residents as well as visitors will join us and enjoy the unique views of the river and dale from the trains."

Durham county councillor Brian Walker, chairman of the County Durham Economic Partnership, said: "I am confident that having been given this new lease of life, the railway company and the Weardale line will, in time, fulfil the potential that I firmly believe they have. I wish them every success."

Mr Sears said he believed the railway was an excellent chance to work with the local community on a project which had "incredible potential".

Locals have complained that £2m of public money was ploughed into the company which launched the railway in the summer of 2004, and which was forced into administration just six months later with debts of almost £1m, mainly to local businesses.

Although creditors agreed to accept 25p in the pound to get the railway back on track, they are still waiting to be paid, but Mr Sears said the reopening of the line brings the payments to the creditors "another step closer".

Weardale Railway is now run by a partnership between ECT Group CIC, Weardale Railway Trust, Wear Valley District Council and Durham County Council.

It will be mainly operated and maintained by volunteer members of the Weardale Railway Trust, "minimising wage costs so that income can be invested in development," added Mr Sears.

He said: "The railway is strongly committed to reopening back to Bishop Auckland to connect Weardale with Network Rail train services, and to maximise the heritage and leisure potential of links with the National Railway Museum at Shildon and the Stockton and Darlington railway route."

Trains will run daily during the summer holidays from Wolsingham to Stanhope at 11am, 1pm and 3pm.

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