A HERITAGE railway in deep financial trouble has caused a split with supporters over plans to sell off their “golden asset” – which would potentially derail dreams of restoring the line to its former glory.

Wensleydale Railway Board is in talks to sell off Aysgarth Station for £400,000 to a private supporter who wants to use it for a “hobby railway”.

Half the cash would be used to pay off a mortgage with the rest ploughed into keeping the railway going.

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A confidential letter has revealed that the sale is “critical” to the railway's survival.

Aysgarth station is not currently connected to the line, but supporters have spent years improving the site and developing a holiday cottage to raise money.

The aim of the Wensleydale railway – which operates between Northallerton, Leeming Bar, Bedale, Leyburn and Redmire – was always to extend it to Aysgarth and eventually Hawes.

The plans caused furore among the thousands of members of the organisation and a double AGM is being held of the PLC Board and the Railway Trust on September 9 – but supporters are concerned it is a “done deal”.

Former Wensleydale Railway chair Ruth Annison called on the Board to postpone any decision and hold a proper consultation.

“Aysgarth station is the so-called Golden Asset of the present Wensleydale Railway," she said. "Its location, at the heart of Wensleydale, means that it is the immediate target to provide car-free access beyond the present railhead at Redmire.

“I call on the plc Board to withdraw their proposal, and the Council of the Association to refrain from using their block shareholding vote to support the proposal, and all stand back to allow proper consideration, with their stakeholders, to address the real challenge: improving financial management and marketing of the Wensleydale Railway.”

Details of the proposed sale were revealed in a confidential letter to members sent to The Northern Echo.

It says: “It is recognised that this would have an impact on the overall aim of reaching Hawes in due course but the inescapable fact is that the railways chances of even reaching Aysgarth with its own resources when it can’t even afford to maintain the current stretch of track are virtually nil."

The letter added: “Shareholders should be in no doubt of the critical nature of this sale to the very survival of the railway.”

Interim chair of the Board, Carl Les, said they were disappointed that someone felt they should put a confidential matter into the public domain

He added: “This issue is going to be discussed fully at the forthcoming AGM of the railway Association and the Public Limited company.

"The railway has faced numerous challenges and this is an opportunity to move the company in its aspirations to both restore Aysgarth Station to its former glory and also get connectivity between Redmire and Aysgarth.

"It’s an opportunity that the directors are supporting whole heartedly and we look forward to having a full discussion with shareholders and the Association members at the Annual General Meeting."