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’.

Yesterday, Wednesday September 16, Durham County Council’s cabinet approved the funding over the next three years which will be matched by The Auckland Project, which bought the railway in March.

By providing this vital match-funding, the council will enable Weardale Railway Limited, a newly established subsidiary of The Auckland Project, to carry out essential infrastructure works needed to reopen and expand the line.

Weardale Railway Limited aims to build on the good work already undertaken on the railway over the last 25 years to create employment opportunities for local people and attract tens of thousands of additional visitors each year.

The heritage service would also increase the reach of the Bishop Auckland Line, providing residents with a link to the East Coast Main Line, as well as attracting regional and national visitors to the area.

The Northern Echo:

The venture would also create employment and training opportunities for residents, including apprenticeships for young people.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Weardale Railway is an important and much-loved heritage asset, but it also has the potential to be a valuable economic asset too.

“Tourism has been hit hard by the pandemic, but it now stands to play a crucial role in the county’s economic recovery. We are doing as much as we can to assist the sector now and safeguard the thousands of jobs it supports. However, it is also important to look ahead and support ventures that will bring long-term benefits to our communities.

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.”

The Northern Echo:

Liz Fisher, curatorial and engagement director at The Auckland Project, said: “Saving such a well-loved attraction has been a real privilege, and we can’t wait to welcome everyone back on-board next year. We’re looking forward to developing a range of services over the coming months for local people and visitors from further afield to enjoy. Like Auckland Castle, Weardale Railway has an incredible heritage, and we want to make sure it has a bright future too.”

Steve Raine, from Old Quarrington, near Bowburn, joined the Weardale Railway Trust when it was set up in the mid-1990s. He is now a director of the charity and Weardale Railway Limited, both of which are voluntary positions.

Mr Raine said: “Weardale is a relatively undiscovered part of the country – a real hidden gem – and I think that is part of what makes the heritage line so special. Linking Weardale Railway to The Auckland Project’s other activities in the area is an opportunity to raise its profile and encourage more people to visit the area.”

Shaun Emmerson a resident of Bondisle Way said: “I like the railway and it needs to be saved some way or another.”

“I hope they use the investment to get some new carriages and trains.

"We would love a steam train and if they gave the shabby carriages a bit of a makeover it would look really nice.”