VOLUNTEERS have been sprucing up a piece of the region’s railway heritage, as it prepares for a busy summer season hauling passengers.

The last-surviving J72 class locomotive, No. 69023, affectionately known as Joem, has been painstakingly maintained and restored by members of the North-East Locomotive Preservation Group (NELPG), in Darlington.

Built in Darlington in 1951, Joem featured in a BBC TV version of The Railway Children and has regularly run on heritage railways around the country in recent years.

Following a comprehensive winter maintenance programme, it was brought back into steam on Tuesday (March 26), ahead of a packed summer schedule which will see it operating on both the Wensleydale Railway and North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Dozens of steam enthusiasts from NELPG have spent hundreds of hours working on Joem during the winter months.

This week, it is going through a range of comprehensive tests to check its readiness for active service, but NELPG member Fred Ramshaw is confident it will pass with flying colours.

He said: “We have done our own steam tests to make sure everything is fine and an insurance man is coming on Thursday to examine it and then it goes back into service.

“It is a nice little engine, it worked last summer on the Wensleydale Railway and has worked on about 15 railways throughout the country, so its passport has been well and truly stamped.”

Costly maintenance on Joem has taken place at NELPG’s Hopetown Works, with groups of volunteers meeting twice a week to ensure the locomotive is in good working order.

Owned by NELPG, Joem’s spells of being hired out heritage railways will help pay for future maintenance and repairs.

NELPG is also grant funded, but Mr Ramshaw said the group’s Hopetown Lane workshops are in need of a facelift.

He said: “It is an original Stockton and Darlington Railway workshop, more than 150 years old, which we rent from Darlington Borough Council.

“The area outside the building is a mess and could do with some attention.”

NELPG is made up of enthusiasts from around the region, but more volunteers are always welcome.

An open day will be held at Hopetown Works from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, April 20.

For more information, visit nelpg.org.uk