Plans to develop a passenger rail service from Weardale to Darlington are to be further considered thanks to £50,000 funding.
Durham County Council and The Auckland Project have been successful in applying for the grant from the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway fund.
The money will help partners to develop an early-stage proposal for plans to join the Bishop Auckland and Weardale railway lines.
This study will consider the possibility of providing passenger rail access from the current heritage stations to Darlington and the wider national rail network, potentially enabling communities to be better connected and supporting ambitious regeneration plans along the 31-mile heritage corridor.
If developed, it is estimated that 500,000 trips could be made on the line annually. Nearby communities would benefit from the new timetable, with additional heritage services introduced during the tourist season to support the estimated increase in visitors.
Proposals could also include the offer of an hourly service between Darlington and Weardale, as well as a second shuttle service between Darlington and Bishop Auckland, to allow two services per hour from 2022.
The announcement of the money follows the success of the council’s application for £20 million from the government’s Levelling Up Fund. This funding has matched investment by the council and The Science Museum Group which is enabling £31 million to be spent delivering the A68 Toft Hill bypass, reopening Whorlton Bridge and creating a heritage corridor along the Stockton and Darlington Railway line.
Cllr Elizabeth Scott, Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economy and partnerships, said: “This funding boost is a positive step in our exciting plans to develop the passenger rail line and along with the £31 million investment we will be making in projects like the Toft Hill bypass and the reopening of Whorlton Bridge, further supports the region’s economic recovery.
“The Weardale Railway line is such a valuable part of the county’s heritage and it is important that we are able to preserve this for future generations. A passenger railway service between Weardale and Darlington would not only support this, but would also allow even more people to experience and enjoy our rich heritage, which is a key aspect of our UK City of Culture 2025 bid.
“Furthermore, if we are able to directly link Weardale with the national rail network, we will be able to attract more visitors to County Durham and support ventures that will bring long-term benefits to our communities, such as greater access to education and employment.”
David Maddan, chief executive of The Auckland Project, said: “We are delighted to receive approval from the Department of Transport to develop our plans to transform the line.
“Our vision is to offer both heritage and passenger services on the whole line, providing improved access for communities and greater opportunities. This will help to boost the county’s offer to residents and visitors, and we look forward to working with Durham County Council and other partners to develop our ideas further.
“The announcement is the first step to this, starting a period of intense planning. It will be a year before any changes will be implemented. And, in the meantime, we will continue the project to re-open heritage services in 2022.”