COUNCILLORS have agreed to pump more than £2.1 million into a heritage railway despite a local member branding the project a 'white elephant for choo-choo enthusiasts'.

Durham County Council's cabinet has this morning approved the funding over the next three years which will be matched by The Auckland Project, which bought the railway in March. 

The money will be used to maintain and repair many of the old railway bridges on the line.

It is hoped that the investment would bring 160,000 visitors to the Bishop Auckland area, increase overnight stays and boost the local economy by £3.2 million.

The charity, which is behind a number of new attractions in Bishop Auckland, says the railway will also support a number of apprenticeships in engineering and mechanics on the old rolling stock carriages. 

Durham County Councillor for Weardale, John Shuttleworth said: "This council has bailed out the railway for over 20 years and local people feel its a 'white elephant' that has created little than a few part-time low-paid jobs. Many of the residents of Bondisle Way feel railroaded by the railway. 

"We cannot continue you to bail out a failing railway for the benefit of what I would call choo-choo enthusiasts, and it should be done with their own money."

However, Councillor Andrea Pattison said: "This is something to be celebrated, more investment into Weardale and the surrounding towns and villages. 

"It is important to take advantage of the assets in theses areas and take local towns with us in these plans.

"Doing nothing in our rural area is not an option, yes there is work to be done to get the tacks up to standard but this will be absolutely fantastic and will help secure future local employment."

Cabinet members approved the investment, which will be match-funded by The Auckland Project.

More to follow.