Churnet Valley Railway are celebrating the completion of the first stage of the ‘Reconnect Leek’ scheme.
The £1,000,000 project, which is classed as a key element of the regeneration of North Staffordshire, has been under proposal for well over a decade, facing various challenges before it was able to get underway.
Thanks to the perseverance of Greg Wilson, Churnet Valley Railway Director and the unwavering support of Sybil Ralphs, leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, the first 200 metres of the track have been laid.
This marks the start of the 1-km line from Leek Brook Station back to Leek.
The first stretch of track is estimated to cost £40,000, with heritage railway Churnet Valley funding £21,000 and Staffordshire Moorlands District Council making up the remaining £19,000 with a grant.
The work will be undertaken by The Permanent Way Institution (PWI) on a voluntary basis, and will form their Practical Trackwork Challenge 2019.
Brian Counter, Technical Director at PWI said of the plans "we are delighted to be holding our third Practical Trackwork Challenge at Leek Brook.
"This unique event is an opportunity for young rail professionals to gather first-hand experience of a track renewal process in a safe, controlled environment. It's a fantastic chance for them to learn with confidence on the ground".
The first stretch of the ‘Reconnect Leek’ line is now operational, and has been officially opened by Sybil Ralphs.
Today marks a milestone in the route's history, with a train travelling the stretch for the first time in nearly 40 years.
Operators say it is intended that the track is used for ad-hoc special journeys to showcase the new stretch of line to customers until project completion.
The ‘Reconnect Leek’ project is part of a constant programme of redevelopment and improvements that Churnet Valley Railway are making, with the 2010 extension to Cauldon Lowe and last year’s replica of the station building at Leek Brook Station enabling the eventual extension of the route to Leek.
The team at Churnet Valley Railway hope to have the line to Leek completed within 24-months.
Director Greg Wilson said: “We have just submitted our full application to EADRF for grant funding and we hope to have a positive response by Christmas.
"At that point, we aim to secure additional funding to bridge the gap, with work on the line intended to continue shortly after. We want to have the full length of track laid within 2 years.”
Churnet Valley Railway has planned a fundraising programme to take place from Autumn 2019 onwards, with the first special event to be held on Saturday 26th October.
The ‘Super Power Saturday’ is being run solely in aid of returning trains to Leek, with all ticket sales and donations on the day going to the ‘Reconnect Leek’ fund.
The ground-breaking, one-off event will showcase the unique spectacle of three working S160 steam engines, demonstrating their American muscle as they weave through the Churnet Valley and up the steep gradients to Ipstones.
The locomotive will be joining resident S160s nos 5197 and 6046, with the former best known for her recent appearance on UKTV’s Train Truckers.
The three S160 locos will appear together at the Churnet Valley Railway – a first for the UK and only the second time within preservation globally.
Further fundraising activity will be announced in due course, including special events, a share issue, and community outreach.