RAILWAY bosses are to pull up 16 miles of track on a disused line after being plagued by scrap metal thieves.

Network Rail said it planned to remove the old Leamside branch line from Tursdale, near Durham City, to Tyneside .

However, company bosses sought to allay fears that a final decision had been made on the future of the line, which was mothballed in 1992.

Campaigners believe reopening the 21-mile line would relieve congestion on the East Coast Main Line and bring other benefits.

Network Rail has previously said it could look at reopening the route, but not until after 2019.

After the mothballing, the double track was reduced to a single line in some places, and some sections at level crossings were removed by Network Rail, while large sections have been stolen. In 2003, scrap metal thieves removed about a mile of track south of Penshaw, on Wearside .

The theft was carried out over six days by workers who had been paid to remove the line, and were unaware that what they were doing was illegal.

A Network Rail spokesman said last night: “Network Rail plans to remove the redundant railway materials from the old Leamside branch.

“The remaining redundant assets have been subject to a high level of thefts over the years, which at times have diverted the valuable resource of the local police, British Transport Police and Network Rail operational and maintenance staff.

“Network Rail has no plans to sell off the land or change its use.

“If in the future a business case and funding becomes available, reinstatement could be an option.

“Our engineers have advised that should this be an option, then a full renewal of all railway components would be required.

“We are writing to residents within 50 metres of the railway to inform them of the works.”

Sleepers and a few signal posts will also be removed. There is no cable, which is frequently targeted by thieves, on the line.

Workers hope to begin removing the line on Monday, September 17.

The work is expected to last for 22 weeks. Residents with concerns have been asked to visit networkrail.

co.uk or call 08457-114141.