HOPES are rising that a stricken tourist railway could reopen next spring - as long as creditors owed £900,000 agree.

Supporters of the Weardale Railway, in County Durham, which has been in administration for nearly a year, were told at the weekend that people working to save the line already had a timetable for survival in place.

John Hummel, a director of the line's new operators the Ealing Community Transport (ECT) group, told the annual meeting of the Weardale Railway Trust that a compensation dispute delaying a final agreement should be resolved quickly.

Once a settlement is reached, administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) can call a meeting with the line's 104 creditors in about a month.

If they can reach agreement on a Creditors' Voluntary Arrangement, the line could come out of administration, with businesses receiving a probable 30p for every £1 they are owed.

Mr Hummel, who runs the successful Dartmoor Railway for ECT, said he understood that the wrangle with the neighbours of the railway's Wolsingham depot, Weardale Castings and Engineering Limited, over disrupted electricity supplies was close to a solution.

Les Graham, Weardale Castings' managing director, told The Northern Echo on Friday that he had agreed to a final settlement with PWC, but the administrators have not commented.

Mr Hummel said: "Everything is now pretty much in place for train services to start running again next spring, but these proposals have to work with the creditors as well."

Councils and regeneration chiefs regard the railway as crucial to Weardale's economy, bringing in thousands of visitors a year.

It is also key to the success of a model eco-village planned at Eastgate while there are even more ambitious proposals for it to form a heritage network, linking with the main rail network at Bishop Auckland and Locomotion: the National Rail Musuem, at Shildon.

A £500,000 relaunch package is in place with contributions from regional development agency One NorthEast, the Wear Valley Local Strategic Partnership, County Durham Development Company and others. The trust has committed £30,000.

Members were told by secretary Frank Holmes that, despite the past year's gloom, the project still enjoyed great support.

He said: "It seems there is a world outside that is willing us to succeed."

A threatened challenge to the trust board at Saturday's meeting at Stanhope petered out when a motion proposing that all members should be invited to meetings was withdrawn.