A TOURISM boss has backed the revival of a historic rail link, following a major step forward in the ambitious project which could see trains operating later this year.
As revealed on the Gazette website last week, dreams of re-opening the Alnmouth to Alnwick branch line reached an ‘important milestone’ last Wednesday, after the Aln Valley Railway Trust (AVRT) – which is behind the scheme – and Northumberland Estates signed a lease.
It means that the first construction elements of the railway can begin almost immediately and it is hoped that there will be some limited running of trains on part of the route by the end of the summer – joining the list of Britain’s Heritage Railways.
Giles Ingram, chief executive for Northumberland Tourism, has thrown his support behind the initiative, believing it will be a boost to the area.
“I think it is wonderful news and really positive.
“Steam railways are perennially popular and they appeal to families and people of all age groups,” he said.
“It is absolutely spot on for people who are looking for an activity during their holiday.
“Anything which is a wet-weather attraction is welcome and a railway is great, even if the weather is drizzly and not so bright.
“I think it adds to the mix in the area.”
Access to the original Alnwick Station, part of which is now Barter Books, is no longer possible, as part of the trackbed was breached for the construction of the A1 Alnwick bypass, while a supermarket has been built on another part of the former line.
Therefore, as part of the plans, a new station, operating base and visitor centre will be built at Lloyd’s Field, which is adjacent to Lionheart Enterprise Park, on the outskirts of the town.
A curved track will link this station to the former alignment allowing trains to reach a terminus next to the East Coast main line at Alnmouth Station.
It is hoped that years down the line, heritage steam and diesel locomotives will haul trains of up to four coaches between the two locations.
The project has been backed by Alnwick town and county councillor Gordon Castle, who also praised those behind the scheme for their perseverance in what has been a long-running saga.
“It will be another string to the town’s bow,” he said. “There are so many great attractions in Alnwick and this will add to the critical mass and add to the appeal of the town
“There have been many hurdles that the committee has had to climb so full credit to them for never losing heart.”
The reopening of the line was first mooted in 1997 and after a number of false starts, planning permission was finally granted by Northumberland County Council in 2010 and initial funding was secured.
Initial works will concentrate on the new operating base and station site, which will be called Alnwick (Lionheart).
At Wooler, progress has been made with the repair and refurbishment of rolling stock, while at Longhoughton, track panels are being assembled for transport to Lionheart as soon as vehicle access is possible.
Some track panels, purchased from Network Rail, and other rail items donated by the National Railway Museum at York, will move north shortly.
AVRT chairman Martin Robinson said: “We are absolutely delighted to have reached this important milestone in the restoration of the railway.
“Everybody involved has worked tremendously hard to achieve this, but there is still a huge amount of work still to done, especially if we are to hit our target dates.
“The Aln Valley Railway is very conscious of its ability to add to the continuing well-being of Alnwick and north Northumberland, and we will do our utmost to contribute.”
The Trust has also made an appeal for volunteers or donors.
Anyone interested can contact Aln Valley Railway’s secretary Mark Hayton at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the railway’s website at www.alnvalleyrailway.co.uk