AN ambitious plan to extend a railway link now has the backing of all four local MPs, but some local councillors are not convinced.
All four County Durham and Darlington Conservative MPs back a bid to examine the re-opening and expansion of the Weardale Railway.
Richard Holden, Member of Parliament for North West Durham, has written to the CEO of the Auckland Project in a letter co-signed by Dehenna Davison MP for Bishop Auckland, Paul Howell MP for Sedgefield, and Peter Gibson MP for Darlington, to show a united support for the 'Restoring Your Railway' submission for the Weardale Railway.
The Weardale Railway was part of a line which originally ran from Bishop Auckland to Wearhead along a distance of 25 miles.
Mr Holden is working to support The Auckland Project, in their bid to look at reopening the Weardale line with a branch spur passenger service to Crook via Howden-le-Wear.
A bid has been submitted to the Department for Transport to have the proposal looked at.
Mr Holden and other County Durham MPs have now confirmed their support for the project, stating that the proposal will ensure: A revitalised Weardale Line, as well as ‘crucial connections’ for communities along the route, including the possibility of reconnecting Crook and Howden-Le-Wear.
Improved cycling and walking links along and around the route, especially into Bishop Auckland and the new stations are proposed.
Connectivity with the Newton Aycliffe Industrial Estate and the revitalisation of The Locomotion Pub there.
New station halts serving new towns and villages.
However not everyone is convinced, a local councillor pointed out that most of the track and infrastructure up to Wearhead has gone.
Durham County Councillor John Shuttleworth said: “This is nothing more than headline grabbing nonsense, for the benefit of the ‘choo choo’ enthusiasts. It is not possible to extend the railway to Wearhead, as the old track has been built on and is now residents back gardens. If the Tories want some lessons in how to become better ‘spin doctors’, I will lend them a Grimm’s fairy tale book, in which they may find further guidance.”
Mr Holden, MP for North West Durham, said: “This project will bring huge benefit to the communities that we were all elected to serve and really help deliver on the levelling up agenda that we were all elected to deliver.
“People in our area pay their taxes and should get their fair share of services.
“Of course, with a big project like this there will be bumps in the road, but I believe it can be done.
“We can build bridges and lay track because it has been done before in other parts of the country so why not here?”
“This would be a huge boost for local businesses, and would increase tourism in our local areas – all of which would help to level up North West Durham and the wider North East.”
I very much look forward to working with The Auckland Project, the council and my Parliamentary colleagues on this project going forward.”
Councillors in Crook welcome the idea of restoring rail links to the town and the benefits it might bring. However, some are worried of the cost of laying new track and building new stations.
Durham County Councillor Anne Reed said: “The old railway line in Crook does not exist now but when it did, it served many local villages and towns, transporting people to most major cities.“There may be the possibility of spurring off from the Stanhope line at Harperley to a location nearer to Crook.
“However, financially this may prove to be very costly and as well as environmental issues, a defined route would need to be investigated."
“A rail link to Crook would be very beneficial for people wanting to travel to work or even gaining a connection to travel even further.”
Fellow Cllr Andrea Patterson for Crook said: “The Auckland Project acquired 100 per cent shareholding of the Weardale Railway back in March 2020 and since then have been working closely with Durham County Council to bring forward plans for their heritage railway and passenger service, including an upcoming bid to the Government’s Ideas Fund for future investment.
“This builds on DCC Cabinet’s recent approval of £2.1m capital investment for railway bridges. I understand The Auckland Project are currently looking at the business case and the feasibility of a spur line to Crook, however, given there are no longer any tracks or station it will very much depend on whether or not it would be commercially viable.
“We are always looking at ways to improve connectivity in our rural communities so it’s great to see the local MP is supportive of the project.”