A heritage railway development has scooped a huge funding boost, which will help it purchase more than £70,000 of track and edge it closer to completion.
Volunteers at the Aln Valley Railway (AVR) are celebrating after receiving a grant offer from Defra’s Coast and Lowlands LEADER fund, to the tune of just over £36,000.
On top of this, Alnwick’s Barter Books – which was the town’s former railway station – has agreed to match the grant pound-for-pound up to a limit of £30,000.
These two cash injections, coupled with other donations, will result in a ‘significant extension’ to the railway, allowing for an additional 700 metres of track to be laid.
The dedicated volunteers are hoping to have the extension ready for the summer season, to give visitors to the attraction a longer train ride.
Once the additional track is fitted, it will mean that the railway will stretch for just under a mile from the newly-built Lionheart Station, behind Alnwick’s Lionheart Enterprise Park.
While there is still a way to go to completing the project – to reach Alnmouth Station and reopen the branchline from Alnwick to Alnmouth – the donations are a major boost to the AVR.
Chairman Martin Robinson said: “This LEADER award, combined with Barter Books’ generous sponsorship, means that we can at last start properly rebuilding the Aln Valley Railway to Alnmouth Station.
“This summer, we will be running our newly-refurbished steam locomotive and two wonderful carriages, so our visitors can look forward to enjoying a 1950s-style short railway journey with all the appropriate sights, sounds and smells.”
The AVR project has been many years in the making, with the first proposal to reopen the line coming in 1997. Stuart and Mary Manley, who own Barter Books, were founder members of the project and they are delighted to be supporting the development with their contribution.
They said: “As founder members of the AVR project, we are thrilled by its progress and are delighted to sponsor it in this way.
“This significant extension of the track means that the railway is well on target to reach Alnmouth in the next few years.
“The AVR is of significant benefit to the town and can only get better as it continues to grow.”
The principal objective of the AVR is the restoration and operation of the railway between Alnmouth and Alnwick, providing an additional tourist attraction for the area and to enlarge the area’s tourism offering.
As an integral part of the project, a permissive cycle path will run alongside the full length of the railway line, linking up with the National Cycle Network at Alnmouth and the A1068 road next to the A1.
It is envisaged that, once the line is complete and with suitable infrastructure in place, it would be possible to timetable services to link with main-line passenger trains at Alnmouth Station.
The plan is also to have a park-and-ride facility at Lionheart Station which would relieve pressure on parking around Alnmouth Station.
After a number of false starts to the project, work finally started in Alnwick in spring 2012.
The development has steamed ahead since then and the site in Alnwick opens during the summer and for special events throughout the year.
In 2014, the AVR launched its Let’s Get To Alnmouth Appeal; a £1.88million fund-raising campaign to fulfil dreams of reaching Alnmouth Station and being fully operational by 2020.
For more information about the project, visit www.alnvalleyrailway.co.uk