THE man once responsible for maintaining a mothballed North-East railway line has described plans to tear it up as ludicrous.

Trevor Horner was a permanent way engineer with the former British Rail and in charge of the Leamside Line until it closed to freight traffic in 1992.

He said he believed the 21-mile line, which links Ferryhill, in County Durham, with Pelaw, near Gateshead, could be comfortably reinstated within a two- year timescale.

Mr Horner, 59, of Bishop Auckland, County Durham, oversaw a major programme of track renewal work on the line and has disputed Network Rail claims that it would need to be completely replaced before train services could run again.

Network Rail wants to salvage any remaining assets from the line for use elsewhere on its network, but a number of groups fear this could jeopardise any future bid to re-open it for passenger services.

Mr Horner said: "The track was laid to a very high standard and would not have suffered significant deterioration.

"It was a complete shock to find out they are now suggesting it should be dug up."

After leaving British Rail, he returned to the line in 2000 while working as an engineer with rail maintenance firm Jarvis.

Mr Horner said: "I appreciate that time can take its toll on lines which are left without any maintenance.

"However my personal knowledge of several parts of the route from approximately six years ago, when I was conducting tests for the introduction of new track- laying machines, indicated that the line was in exceptionally good condition.

"In fact, most of that which I saw at that time was fit to run trains on without any work being done."

Mr Horner described how there had been "mega-investment" in Leamside, including almost £1m spent on stabilising several embankments.

The engineer also doubted a pledge from Network Rail that it would not sell off the land or dismantle bridges.

He said: "There are a number of major structures which, until they are sold or demolished, remain a liability since they have to be maintained."

Mr Horner, who now acts as a part-time engineering consultant to GNER, said: "What is being proposed is absolutely ludicrous.

"These people must be misinformed.

"It is sad for a career railwayman like me to see a route like this being dismantled."

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: "We are giving due consideration to all responses received about Leamside.

"This is not a case of us abandoning the line, it is simply a housekeeping exercise.