VOLUNTEERS restoring part of a North railway last used 15 years ago are celebrating after clearing 10 miles of vegetation in three weeks.
The news means Weardale Railway’s pledge to restore 18 miles of track between Eastgate and Bishop Auckland in County Durham by the end of this year is on target.
The first stage of reopening the line from Wolsingham to Bishop Auckland has been completed in three weeks.
Brian Walker, spokesman for Weardale Railway Trust, a group of volunteers working to restore the railway, said: “The clearance of those years of vegetation growth has made it possible to conduct an inspection and assessment of the condition of the permanent way that has lain disused since the last cement trains from the old Lafarge factory at Eastgate ran in 1993.
“Inspection has revealed that the line is in remarkably good condition and much of the length of the currently unused part of the line will take little work to bring it back up in order to carry both commercial and heritage traffic.”
Last month Ed Ellis, US president of Iowa Pacific Holdings, the Chicago-based company which bought a 75% stake in County Durham’s Weardale Railway, 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. He said using rail would reduce congestion, noise and pollution on the rural Weardale roads.
Although only six miles of track between the dales towns of Wolsingham and Stanhope are currently in use, Mr Ellis stressed the entire 18 miles of track would be reopened “by the end of this year”. He said: “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 reopened by the end of the year.”
Mr Ellis said 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 currently open for tourist trains, towards the end of next year.
Meanwhile, negotiations with Network Rail are proceeding to secure a reconnection to the National Network at Bishop Auckland and therefore a rail link from Weardale to the East Coast main line at Darlington.
Bookings are also being taken for Santa Special trains to run the seven miles between Wolsingham and Stanhope on 11 dates between November and December 24. To book a ticket for a Santa Special, ring (01388) 526203.