TRUST WINS VITAL GO-AHEAD TO SUBMIT LINE EXTENSION SCHEME
PLANS to extend a popular heritage railway in the Moorlands have been given an important green light.
Members of the Churnet Valley Trust, which runs steam trains from Froghall to Leekbrook, have long been keen to reinstate another section of the line – disused since 1970 – which would extend it to Leek.
Their dream moved an important step closer last week when Staffordshire Moorlands District Council’s ruling cabinet authorised submission of a planning application.
The council also gave the green light for the negotiation of agreement to lease the track bed – which would enable the Trust to construct, operate and manage the line.
It is also prepared to help towards the cost of the reinstatement.
It will contribute £22,000 from the Moorlands Partnership Board towards the preparation of the full planning application, more than £7,000 towards the cost of reviving Leekbrook station and £4,000 towards the cost of repairs to the station at Cheddleton.
Railway volunteer John Kerr hopes a formal plan can be submitted in the autumn and that the line could be up and running within two years.
“We’ve had plans to extend the line to Leek for a long time and it has taken seven years of talks with the council to get to this stage,” he said.
“It’s a big relief that the effort people have put into the project finally seems to be coming to fruition.”
The plan to extend the line involves the erection of an entirely new station in Leek as the old one was replaced by the Morrisons supermarket.
More than 70,000 visited the Railway last year and the Trust believes that figure will rise to around 100,000 when the extension is complete.
It’s thought the project could bring an additional £500,000 expenditure to the economy in the area and could create the equivalent of 13 full-time jobs.
Plans for further work to extend the operation include reviving lines from Ipstones to Cauldon Lowe, from Oakamoor to Alton and from the new station at Leek all the way to Stoke.
“These are things that are definitely in the pipeline but that wil have to wait until we complete the Leekbrook to Leek section,” added Mr Kerr.
Members of the Trust have meanwhile been celebrating a hat-trick of success in a special anniversary year.
The attraction has been awarded a quality assurance mark by the Visit England tourist board, a Certificate of Excellence from consumer forum TripAdvisor and a five-star food and hygiene rating for the standard of it’s tearooms.
The operating company which runs the attraction is marking its Silver Jubilee this year and Mr Kerr added: “To receive just one of these awards would be a fantastic achievement, but to receive three almost at the same time is unprecedented.
“The vast majority of those who work on the Churnet Valley line are volunteers whose passion for the travel of yesteryear maintains the entire operation.
“So these awards are a credit to them and go to show just what we have been able to achieve as a team.”
VisitEngland, which inspects tourist attractions in a bid to promote them worldwide, rated the visitor experience at 79 per cent using more than 200 pre-set checks of the entire site.
The Railway received the TripAdvisor award as a hospitality businesses that has earned impressive traveller reviews on the website over the past year, while the Froghall tearooms, taken over by a new catering team this year, picked up a five-star rating following inspection by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council.
Mr Kerr said: “All of our services are staffed by volunteers so for anyone who has ever wanted to get involved, now is the time to come down and be part of an award-winning attraction”
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