PLANS to re-open a North Yorkshire railway line closed more than 40 years ago could soon be brought from the sidings.

A scheme to put trains back on track along the former Harrogate-Ripon-Thirsk-Northallerton route has been on hold for more than four years.

But in June, efforts will be made by North Yorkshire County Council to appoint consultants to carry out a study to test passenger demand.

Already, the Countryside Agency has given a 50pc grant towards the study which will identify population catchment areas and likely use of the line if reopened.

Meanwhile, Ripon's single regeneration funding, administered by Ripon City Partnership, will consider on April 29 whether to give financial backing to the study. The scheme goes out to tender in June.

The old line, some of which was built on, notably at Wormald Green and Littlethorpe, also includes a section of Ripon bypass built seven years ago.

The line was shut down first to passengers then to goods traffic during the sweeping axe of rail lines in the Sixties by Dr Charles Beeching, former chairman of British Railways Board, who later became Lord Beeching.

Restoration of the line is strongly supported by Ripon Railway Reinstatement Association.

Chris Millns, head of environmental enhancement at the county council, said study findings would be fed back to a soon-to-be-established steering group involving local councils and other interested parties.

News of the viability study comes as the Strategic Rail Authority has announced it is suspending funding for such projects.

But Mr Millns said it was hoped that would be a short-term measure and in the meantime the county council was pressing ahead to assess demand for the line. Though he warned moving ahead with the scheme could prove a "very lengthy, expensive process."

The Countryside Agency's support is seen as vital in helping to kick-start the long delayed project. If the scheme passes its first viability test, it could move to an engineering feasibility stage linked to a vital pre-qualification bid for cash from the rail authority.

Mr Millns said any engineering feasibility study would closely examine constraints of re-opening the line and explore alternative routes in a bid to avoid areas which had been developed.

When the line was in operation, Ripon railway station was at Ure Bank, a mile north of the city centre. If the line is eventually re-opened, it has been suggested that one station should serve the north of the city near Beeches Farm with a southern station near Safeways superstore close to the Wheatsheaf roundabout.

Consultants will look into the feasibility of extending the line to Northallerton and Thirsk.

The county council is keen to see the rail authority help to transfer freight from road to rail, but new grants for this have also been halted by the rail authority because of its current funding problems.