AMBITIOUS plans to extend a heritage railway line deep into the Yorkshire Dales are taking shape as the service enjoys a dramatic rise in passenger numbers.

The Wensleydale Railway is in discussions with Network Rail in a bid to obtain an unwanted metal bridge from a line in South Wales.

The bridge would be used to plug a gap in the Dales line just beyond Redmire Station, between Leyburn and Aysgarth, which was left when the previous bridge was demolished after it was damaged in a storm.

This would pave the way for the track to be replaced up to Aysgarth – creating the first extension of the service since volunteers took over the line in 2003.

Ken Monkman, chairman of Wensleydale Railway Association, said the group hoped to collect the bridge in October.

The ultimate aim is to extend the existing Redmire to Leeming passenger service on to Northallerton to the east and Garsdale to the west.

Mr Monkman said: “If we can get to Aysgarth we would have started that process and overcome a significant hurdle.

“We would have physically extended the line – but without the bridge we can’t move forward.”

He said no time limit had been set for the work to extend the line beyond Redmire, adding that plans to reconnect to Northallerton were currently on the “back-burner”

because of the economic climate, but not forgotten about.

The line has reported a successful summer, with passenger numbers up 50 per cent on last year.

Publicity on ITV’s The Dales series, along with an appearance on the BBC’s Countryfile and two television adverts has helped, bosses say. The line has also benefited from running two steam locomotives for the first time.

Mr Monkman said: “Things are very encouraging at the moment.

“The level of support from Leyburn has grown as they see the economic benefits.

Bedale is also starting to see those benefits as we take more people into the town.”

The association has 2,500 members and 250 volunteers.

The line also has a number of paid staff who Mr Monkman said worked above and beyond their hours to keep the service running.

There continues to be considerable “goodwill and passion”

driving the line forward, he added.