THE major creditors of the stricken Weardale Railway are keeping a revival plan on track by agreeing to a deal that could take it out of administration.

Representatives of the 104 businesses which are owed a total of £900,000 by the railway have accepted a 25p in the £1 deal offered by administrators PricewaterhouseCoopers, raising hopes that the line could reopen in time for Easter.

All creditors must agree to a Creditors' Voluntary Arrangement which would write off the railway's debts.

Final agreement could be reached at a creditors' meeting sometime in the new year.

A creditors' committee is said to have accepted the deal reluctantly and asked for safeguards over the future of the line's assets, including its 13 miles of track.

Another obstacle, a wrangle with Weardale Castings and Engineering Ltd over disrupted electricity supplies at Wolsingham, is understood to have been settled, with lawyers still working out details of land licences.

The railway ran a service between Stanhope and Wolsingham from July to December last year, attracting thousands of visitors to Weardale in the wake of business closures and the foot-and-mouth disease outbreak.

Councils and regeneration chiefs regard the project as crucial to the survival of the Weardale economy and a key element in plans for a multi-million pound eco-village at Eastgate.

A £500,000 relaunch package is already in place, with contributions from regional development agency One NorthEast, the Wear Valley Local Strategic Partnership, County Durham Development Company (CDDC) and others, including the Weardale Railway Trust, a group of volunteers who provide fundraising and practical support.

The line would have new operators in the Ealing Community Transport Group, who would own 75 per cent of the operation.

Kevin Hillary, the trust's chairman, said: "It is pleasing that progress is being made, but the pace is frustrating for us all.

"We are working towards a restart date of Easter, but this is obviously dependant on the creditors' agreement being finalised.

"I would like to thank everyone involved with the project, including the creditors, for their patience and continued support through this testing period."

Kingsley Smith, executive chairman of the CDDC, said: "Things are looking very hopeful.

"There is a lot of detail behind the scenes which needs to be completed but things seem to be on course for a satisfactory conclusion."

PWC said yesterday that a date for the creditors' meeting had not net been set, but was likely to take place early next year.