VOLUNTEERS at a heritage railway say they are disappointed at the American owners’ decision to sell up.

Weardale Railway is a major tourist attraction in the dale and brings in trade throughout the year, especially in summer holidays.

In a statement Weardale Railway Trust said it is "disappointed to learn that British American Railway Services (BARS), who are the majority shareholders in Weardale Railway CIC (WRCIC), has announced the offer for sale of all its UK businesses.”

The trust has been a minor shareholder in WRCIC since 2006. British American Railway Services is owned by parent company Iowa Pacific.

The Northern Echo: A Christmas event on the Weardale RailwayA Christmas event on the Weardale Railway

Its statement continued: "BARS has made significant investment in WRCIC since its acquisition of a controlling interest in 2008, including the reopening of the line between Wolsingham and Bishop Auckland, constructing a coal loading facility at Wolsingham and operating a major Christmas event (The Train to Christmas Town)."

The railway originally ran from Bishop Auckland to Wearhead and was built in the 19th Century to carry limestone from Eastgate, and provide passenger services to Weardale. The freight service ceased operations in 1992 and in 1993 the heritage rail service was started.

The Northern Echo:

The line opened a station at Witton-le-Wear in 2016 and has plans to extend the line to Eastgate in Weardale, although volunteers fear this may no longer go ahead with the uncertain future.

The trust has more than 400 members who give their time to keep the line running.

The operation is run by volunteers such as ticket conductors, station masters, signalmen and train drivers.

The Northern Echo: Volunteers at Weardale RailwayVolunteers at Weardale Railway

The trust statement said: “The trust is fully engaged with the process of looking to find a suitable partner to take over from BARS and will make strenuous efforts to preserve the Weardale Railway.”

Durham County Councillor for Weardale, John Shuttleworth said he hopes a new buyer would support the towns in the dale. He said: “Anyone buying it should support local businesses, we want to see trips to Stanhope coming and using the facilities like the Durham Dales centre.” Iowa Pacific was contacted for comment but did not respond at the time of publication.