THE train's engine was running, the platform was bustling with people clutching their £95 tickets and the day marked a special occasion in rail history for the region.

As the doors of the train opened more than 100 passengers stepped on board and made themselves comfy for the long-awaited journey between Leeming Bar and Leyburn.

Travelling at a pleasant 25mph, the three carriages wound through the countryside, allowing passengers to take-in almost forgotten scenery.

"It seems so much more rural when you look out the window and see the trees and fields - we miss all that when we travel by car," said Scott Handley, chief executive of Wensleydale Railway plc.

For almost 50 years the stretch of line has carried only freight trains.

But after a long battle to reintroduce passenger trains, Wensleydale Railway - the country's newest train operating company - has brought its exciting venture into fruition.

Mr Handley said: "We have faced months of slow-moving bureaucracy and our last hurdle was the granting of the operating licences. But with those sorted we have had since May to get the stations ready and the train running to make today a reality.

"We have been working flat out over the last few weeks and somehow it has all just come together in the final hour."

Tickets for the first day of travel between the two stations on Saturday sold at £95, with most passengers scrambling for a seat on the first journey, leaving Leeming Bar at 10.30am.

Richmond MP William Hague, Yorkshire and Humber Euro MP David Bowe and Mayor of Leyburn Trixie Walker were among the VIPs invited to mark the occasion.

Fares have now returned to a more affordable price (see below) and company officials hope that locals will leave their cars at home and make full use of the service.

"Most people in the area have been very positive about the re-opening of the line and I'm hoping it will be well used, especially during the tourist season," said Mr Handley.

"I am pretty confident that the response will be very good - this day has been a long time coming for so many people."

An estimated £2m in private investment has been spent putting trains back on the track. Wensleydale Railway hopes to extend the service over the coming years to serve more local people over a greater distance.

The purchase of two light-weight trains, at a cost of £1.5m each, is one development in the pipeline.

"They are similar to trams, with lower access and more economical to run," said Mr Handley. "They will enable us to stop at smaller villages down the line, as well as at camp sites or golf clubs."

The newly restored station at Bedale should be open before the end of the summer and it is also hoped that Northallerton will be added to the train's route next year, opening the line to national and international rail networks.

* Railway carriage restorer Stephen Middleton will be the speaker at the next meeting of the Northallerton Branch of the Wensleydale Railway next Monday at the RAFA Club, starting at 7.30pm. For more details call (01609) 770317.