DRINK and drug taking vandals are continuing to plague a mothballed North-East railway line, according to nearby residents.

Residents claim vandals are attempting to set fire to wooden sleepers on remaining stretches of track on the 21-mile long Leamside line, which links Ferryhill, in County Durham, with Pelaw, near Gateshead.

The line, owned by Network Rail, which was last used by freight trains in 1992, is also being used by flytippers.

James Lewis, 59, of Fatfield, Washington, said: "The line goes through quite a few residential areas and you get vandals sitting on it, drinking and smoking drugs all hours of the day and night.

"There is a walkway which runs parallel to the disused track which a lot of people wont walk along now because they are afraid.

"They are starting to burn the wooden sleepers on the track in order to steal the metal bolts.

"People are also just using the line as a dumping ground to dump rubbish."

Mr Lewis said he had surveyed 500 local residents who live nearby and the majority view was that the track should be removed entirely.

Two years ago Network Rail halted plans to tear up remaining stretches of the railway following protests by the likes of the North-East Assembly, Nexus, local MPs and rail campaigners.

It has maintained that at present there is no business case to re-open the line, despite a study which showed it would have wide economic benefits and claims it could ease pressure on the congested East Coast Mainline.

A Network Rail spokeswoman said Leamside was still an asset and in the long term it could be brought back into use.

Inspector Iain McLaren, of British Transport Police, said: "We would urge residents to contact us as and when incidents are occurring so that we can build up a fuller picture of the types of problems that are happening there."