AMBITIOUS plans to transport hundreds of thousands of tonnes of quarry stone on a North East tourist railway were unveiled yesterday.
Ed Ellis, US president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, the Chicago-based company which bought a 75% stake in County Durham’s Weardale Railway last month, said negotiations were taking place with a number of local firms to transport quarry aggregates from Eastgate by rail to Darlington and the East Coast Main Line.
Using rail would reduce congestion, noise and pollution on the rural Weardale roads, said Mr Ellis.
Although only six miles of track between the dales towns of Wolsingham and Stanhope are currently in use, Mr Ellis stressed that the entire 18 miles of track would be re-opened “by the end of this year”.
“The track is in a good condition. Even as I speak we are working to remove brushwood from parts which are currently out of use. There is no reason why it cannot be re-opened by the end of the year.” Mr Ellis added that his company planned to run both freight and passenger trains on the 18 miles between Eastgate and Bishop Auckland, which includes the six miles between Stanhope and Wolsingham, next year.
He said: “The option of using rail to transport freight is the choice being made more and more in the USA and it makes economic sense here too, especially given the increase in the price of diesel fuel.
“Roads in the UK are becoming more and more overcrowded and we see rail as the future of freight transport. By linking our track to the main rail network at Bishop Auckland we then have direct access to the East Coast Main Line at Darlington for our freight traffic.”
The rail company plans to use part of the former Lafarge cement works at Eastgate as a freight terminal to transport stone from quarries near Eastgate and Frosterley in Weardale.
The Weardale line was used to transport freight from the cement works to the East Coast Main Line until the cement company switched to road traffic in 1993. The cement works closed 10 years later.
Mr Ellis added that talks were under way with Network Rail on building a new platform at Bishop Auckland, so passengers could transfer from there on to Weardale Railway heritage trains. “We are confident that there will be no obstacles towards building a new platform at Bishop Auckland. We have the funding and investors in place, plus forthcoming revenue from our freight operation,” he added.
Supporters of the Weardale Railway believe thousands of visitors per year will wish to combine a visit to the National Railway Museum at Shildon, near Bishop Auckland, with a journey on their heritage railway.
Gerry Mudd, one of the directors of the Weardale Railway Trust, which is made up of more than 800 members of all ages, of which over 100 are active volunteers who carry out a wide range of duties on the railway, said: “We feel far more optimistic that the railway now has a bright future.”
The line intends to run Santa specials this Christmas, hopefully with a steam loco which volunteers are now renovating.