RURAL bus services facing the axe after one of Europe’s biggest transport operators labelled them “unviable” were saved last night following a public backlash in towns and villages across County Durham.

Durham County Council announced that nearly all of the services facing the axe in Teesdale will continue operating under a temporary contract with local transport firm Scarlet Band.

The services had been under threat after bosses at Arriva, one of Europe’s largest transport operators, decided they were no longer commercially viable.

However, in a campaign that will give fresh hope to communities facing the bleak prospect of transport cuts through the North-East and North Yorkshire, local people convinced the local authority to step in.

The news was welcomed by Teesdale School pupils Caitlin Brennan, Anna Renfrew and Anisha Harris, all aged 15, who submitted a 1,000-signature petition to the county council encouraging the authority and Arriva to save the buses.

Caitlin, who lives in Cotherstone, encouraged other people who find themselves in a similar position to take action against the cuts.

She said: “This is the best news ever really, this is exactly what we wanted. It is amazing.

“We didn’t know if what we were doing would make any difference, but there is no harm in trying.

“Anisha lives in Bowes, so would not have been affected by the cuts, but no buses go through there at all, so she knows how it feels.”

Earlier this month, Durham County Council pledged £75,000 towards saving as many of the threatened services as possible after pooling subsidies from routes no longer operating.

And last night the authority said Scarlet Band, a small company which operates under the motto “big enough to cope, but small enough to care”, had stepped in to run services on weekdays and Saturdays.

Councillor Neil Foster, the council’s cabinet member for regeneration and economic development, said: “Although we are in very difficult financial times, we also recognise the need to ensure that young people can get to their place of education and residents can get to work. It is these needs which have been the driving force behind deciding on the services we are able to save.”

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland and Teesdale, said: “I am very pleased this has been resolved so satisfactorily.”

The initial contract runs until next Spring, but the council will award a mediumterm contract when it expires.

Graeme Torrance, who owns Scarlet Band, said: “It is an area where we feel people rely on good buses and we look forward to providing our reliable and popular service.”

Although the timetable is expected to remain the same, there may be a few minutes difference to some services.

The new timetable is expected to be available within the next week.

The Scarlet Band services will start operating on January 3.