BRITAIN'S newest railway is attracting thousands of visitors to the region, breathing new live into Weardale.

Directors of Weardale Railway have revealed that 13,633 passengers have paid their fare to travel on the five-mile track between Stanhope and Wolsingham since it opened in July.

Steve Raine, chairman of the Weardale Railway Trust, confirmed that receipts from the train journeys so far totalled £68,188.

He said: "The feedback we are getting from businesses like cafes, pubs and restaurants in Weardale is very pleasing.

"The passenger figures don't take into account the number of visitors that have come to the Dale and we think that possibly a further 20 per cent have not travelled on trains but have simply come to visit the stations or stopped to view the steam engines from bridges. This augers well for our future development plans.''

Stanhope Tourist Information Centre, which is situated in the Dales Centre, has confirmed that there has been a significant rise in visitors to the Dale since the railway opened.

Dales Centre manager Judith Crow said: "We have certainly noticed a significant difference in the number of visitors. They come to the Dales Centre and ask about the railway and they also ask about what else is going on in the Dale. The more things that are going on in the Dale, the better for us because it means they will stay here and enjoy the complete Dales experience."

Elaine Burton of the Lime Tree Gallery, The Butts, Stanhope, said that the opening of the railway had had a 'wonderful' effect on the Dale.

She said: "It has made such a difference in the shop, especially during the week, at a time when we would have been a lot quieter.

"People are getting on the train at Wolsingham and coming up and spending a few hours looking around here, especially in the summer when it was fine. They have been using the outdoor pool and people are having picnics by the river. I have heard people saying they have had a fantastic day out."