A HERITAGE railway group has hailed the long-awaited extension of its service through County Durham a success.

Weardale Railway Heritage Services (WRHS) launched its extended journeys to Bishop Auckland this month following a six-year closure.

Passenger services had previously been operating between Stanhope and Witton-le-Wear but repairs to the track allowed the volunteer-run organisation to make the final stretch to Bishop Auckland usable again.

The newly extended service had its first run to Bishop Auckland West station on July 1 and has proved popular - particularly in this first week of the school summer holidays.

John Hill, volunteer and commercial director for WRHS, said: "It's been excellent. We're doing really well and now the kids are off it has been exceptional.

"Everybody is really enthusiastic by what we've done. It's come along slowly - we started small and have built up."

The track from Witton-le-Wear to Bishop Auckland had been closed since 2012.

Work was done at Broken Banks, about half a mile from the station in Bishop Auckland, where the tracks had been sinking.

The heritage service has been running itself since 2014 and since then has gradually introduced trains back onto more parts of the unused tracks.

"Back in 2013 the railways stopped running expect for the Polar Express at Christmas," added Mr Hill. "In 2014 WRHS was born - several volunteers got together and said we want to run the railway again.

"We managed to acquire and hire a 122 Bubble Car and we're still running that.

"What we did at first is we ran from Stanhope to Frosterley and Wolsingham in 2014, starting in about May.

"We ran them until October that year and did quite well.

"In 2015 we did the same, but started to think we should travel a bit further.

"We managed to rebuild the station at Witton-le-Wear and operated from Stanhope to Witton-le-Wear.

"We carried that on in 2016 and 2017 and this year extended to Bishop Auckland."

The service is generally open on weekends from March through to October, depending on bank holidays, and on Wednesdays during the school summer break.

On each day the railway is open, the group runs three services - the first and third from Stanhope to Bishop Auckland and back and the second from Stanhope to Witton-le-Wear and back.

Mr Hill is one of 200 volunteers for the service, and one of 40 who are operational.

Each running day requires nine volunteers to staff the trains and platforms.

For more information about the Weardale Railway visit weardale-railway.org.uk