MORE than 500 rail enthusiasts are travelling to the region tomorrow on board the first scheduled passenger service to connect a rural rail line for more than 50 years.

Rail tour operator UK Railtours is running the one-day service from London King’s Cross station to Shildon, in County Durham, and up the Weardale Railway line, to Stanhope, before returning south in the afternoon.

The service is due to arrive at Locomotion: The National Railway Museum, in Shildon, at 11.58am, which passengers can visit before departing for Stanhope at 1.48pm, passing through Bishop Auckland train station en route.

It is due to arrive in Stanhope at 3.15pm, and will depart at 3.40pm.

The service will pass through Bishop Auckland train station, without stopping, between 1.55pm and 2pm on the way to Stanhope, and at about 4.55pm on the return journey.

Dr George Muirhead, Locomotion manager, said: “We are absolutely delighted that this is happening, everyone at the museum is really excited.

“We have had charter trains in the past, but the connection to Weardale makes this even more inviting.

“I think it demonstrates the real potential of the Weardale Railway, now that the link has been made with Bishop Auckland, and we hope to welcome many more services.

“It has been more than 50 years since the last scheduled passenger service passed through Bishop Auckland and up the dale to Stanhope.

“At its peak in the Thirties, the line carried seven passenger trains, and seven freight trains, every day.”

Passengers will be presented with goody bags on their arrival at Stanhope, put together by Durham Tourism, Weardale Railway, and members of its junior club.

Alistair Gregory, general manager of Weardale Railway, encouraged people in the area to visit Stanhope station for the train’s arrival.

“We are really looking forward to the event, it is going to be a fantastic day,” he said.

“It is the culmination of ten years’ extremely hard work by the staff and volunteers at Weardale Railway, contractors, and our investors, British American Railway Carriers. It will prove that the line is there, and working.”