WEARDALE RAILWAY has been bought out of administration by the charity which is turning Bishop Auckland into a major tourist attraction, it was announced today.

And there are hopes to join the heritage railway up with Darlington and Shildon on the historic trackbed of the Stockton & Darlington Railway ahead of its 200th anniversary in 2025.

Weardale Railway, which runs from Bishop Auckland to Stanhope, was put up for sale last month by its American owners, Iowa Pacific.

It has now been bought by the Auckland Project, the charity behind the restoration of Auckland Castle and the creation of the Kynren night show.

In a statement, the project said: “We have no experience of running trains and to deliver a full service from Darlington westwards will require a partnership with a Train Operating Company. This consortium could lead the way in demonstrating that the ‘Beeching Cut’ in the UK railway service could soon be reversed and potentially be the first of many such enterprises up and down the country.”

The Weardale Railway was first opened in 1847 to Wolsingham and Frosterley, and it was extended up to Stanhope in 1862. It was closed to passengers after the Beeching Axe of the 1960s, which cut a third of Britain’s railway lines, although it remained open to freight trains serving the cement works at Eastgate.

However, when the works closed in 1993, all trains ceased. The line’s heritage potential has long been recognised and a campaign involving Sir William McAlpine and record producer Pete Waterman, began. This came to fruition in 2004 when the first tourist trains began operating, manned largely by volunteers. It has long been a goal to run heritage steam trains from Darlington up the dale, and today’s announcement not only secures the future of the Weardale line but it brings that dream one step closer to reality.

David Maddan, the chief executive of The Auckland Project, said: “The North-East’s magnificent industrial heritage offers a unique opportunity for change. By linking with other major transport infrastructure projects and working with partners, including the dedicated team at the Weardale Railway Trust, we can ensure an immediate impact is felt right across the Tees Valley and throughout County Durham.”

Jonathan Ruffer, founder of The Auckland Project, added: “This is the latest initiative to restore vibrancy to the region, giving visitors a wide range of experiences around the castle at Auckland, the Kynren nightshow, the Spanish and Mining Art Galleries – something for everyone. And soon they’ll be able easily to arrive by train!”

Kevin Richardson, chair of the Weardale Railway Trust, said: “We at Weardale Railway Trust were initially disappointed when the previous owners announced the decision to offer Weardale Railway for sale. We had enjoyed a successful relationship, which has been beneficial to both parties. However, the arrangement had not been without its difficulties, particularly given the six-hour time difference between Chicago and the UK.

“We were delighted, therefore, to learn that The Auckland Project had taken over ownership of the railway. To bring the line back into local ownership will, we feel, be a major positive step. We believe that doing so will encourage local people to join us in preserving this important part of our local heritage.

“We have followed the progress of The Auckland Project with great interest. Here we have an organisation, which has already proven at Bishop Auckland what commitment and vision can achieve. Their aspirations for the railway going forward are very impressive and we look forward to working with them to take the Weardale Railway into the next chapter of its fascinating history.”

The takeover has been widely rumoured for some time now, and the rumours strengthened a couple of weeks ago when the railway, despite its American owners’ financial issues, applied for permission to add an additional stop between Wolsingham and Frosterley to serve nearby caravan parks.