FREIGHT trains carrying thousands of tonnes of coal through picturesque countryside will soon be a familiar sight on a North East heritage railway.
Trials are taking place this month on running freight trains from Wolsingham in County Durham along the Weardale railway.
Should the trials be successful, coal wagons will then ferry their cargo from an opencast site near Tow Law to power stations further south for the next four years.
Despite opposition from residents in Wolsingham, who say lorries bringing coal from the opencast site to load on to the trains will increase noise and dust, railway bosses say transporting the coal hundreds of miles by rail is more environmentally friendly than by road.
In a newsletter the railway’s director, Gerald Mudd, said: “Two trial trains with wagons will be operated later in June on dates to be confirmed. They will be hauled by Colas and utilise the usual 100-ton coal wagons, although in this case not with the full complement of 21 wagons. Some test loading may take place.
“If these trips are successful then regular services will commence in the following week initially at the rate of three trains per week It is understood that these early trips will be to and from Scunthorpe.”
UK Coal also said that using rail would see their road wagons passing about 50 homes between Tow Law and Wolsingham while transporting the coal to the A1 would see them passing more than 1,000.
British American Railways, which owns 75% of the railway, says using the line to carry coal would bring in valuable financial support for the tourism and heritage line. President Ed Ellis said: “The option of using rail to transport freight is the choice being made more and more in the USA and it makes economic sense here too.”
A joint statement between Weardale Railway and UK Coal said: “The ability of the Weardale Railway to assist in moving the coal by rail will greatly reduce the environmental and community impacts by reducing highway usage.”
Rail bosses believe the line could be used for future industry including a proposed gravel works at Harperley and stone from quarries further up the dale, with a consequent reduction of lorries on Weardale roads.
Last summer passenger services were restored on the 18-mile stretch of heritage line between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland for the first time in decades.
But at the turn of the year the railway cut the passenger service by 40% from five trains per day in each direction to three, blaming poor usage.
Income from freight is seen by the owners as vital if the line is to continue and to prosper.