A HERITAGE railway's ambitions plans to extend deep into the Yorkshire Dales have taken another step forward with the purchase of a second-hand bridge.

The Wensleydale Railway has launched a fundraising campaign to buy a disused metal bridge which currently stretches over the A1 beside the A6136 at Catterick Racecourse.

Fort Bridge will be used to replace a bridge removed by British Rail from the Wensleydale line over Apedale Beck at Redmire in 1990 after being damaged in a flood.

Bridging the gap at Redmire is one of the steps needed to link the line to the station at Aysgarth Falls.

The ultimate aim is to extend the track all the way to Garsdale and link with the Settle-Carlisle line.

Ken Monkman, chairman of the Wensleydale Railway Association, said: "Our plan is to go up to Aysgarth, subject to getting permission, and one day on to Garsdale.

"We have already bought the station at Aysgarth and will potentially have a halt below Bolton Castle too. This bridge will probably save us hundreds of thousands of pounds it would have cost to build a bridge at Redmire."

The Wensleydale Railway has already paid a deposit for the bridge which is being removed as part of the work to upgrade the A1 between Leeming and Barton.

The group will pay around £130 a tonne for the bridge, which is though to weigh about 70 tonnes.

A campaign to raise £20,000 has been launched.

"We've launched the campaign to raise the money so that we don't deplete our reserves," Mr Monkman added.

"The money will be used to pay for the bridge and also move it and put it in place at Redmire."

It is likely that part of the bridge, which is longer than the gap at Redmire, will also be used to plug a cattle creep near Aysgarth.

Built originally in the 1850s, passenger service on the line finished in the 1950s.

Freight traffic taking limestone to Teesside continued on the line which was also used by the Army to bring tanks to and from Catterick Garrison.

In 2003 volunteers then reopened the line for passenger traffic between Redmire and Leeming, and have since restored services all the way to Northallerton.

To help the fundraising campaign, visit www.charitychoice.co.uk/wensleydale-railway-trust-ltd/appeals/help-us-bridge-the-gap