RAILWAY staff and volunteers have paved the way for a dales line to link with the national network by clearing ten miles of mothballed track in just three weeks.

Supporters of the Weardale Railway pulled out all the stops to clear grass, trees and weeds from the line between Wolsingham and Bishop Auckland, which was last used by cement trains 15 years ago.

With the track visible once more, inspections have shown that it is in remarkably good condition, and the railway’s new American owners say it will take little work to get freight and heritage traffic running into Bishop Auckland.

The company Iowa Pacific Holdings are negotiating with Network Rail to link with main line services sometime next year.

They are investing £800,000 in the railway through a new company British American Services Ltd and want to build a new Weardale platform west of Bishop Auckland.

Iowa Pacific’s president Ed Ellis said: "Thanks to our volunteers and paid staff, we have reached a key milestone in the process of reopening the line, and we have done so in a very short timeframe. "We are also moving forward on the necessary licences and access agreements, and have requested Network Rail to provide us with a cost and a date for the work necessary at Bishop Auckland. "On the whole, we are very satisfied with the progress to date."

Network Rail said yesterday they were happy to be working with the company and were exploring a range of options.