New rail link 'best thing in years for Moorlands'
THE return of the railways to Staffordshire Moorlands has been described as the best thing to happen to the area in decades.
Moorlands and City Railways Ltd (MCR) has bought about 20 miles of disused railway line between Stoke and Cauldon Low quarries, which it plans to reopen.
That could see the return of freight services in the next two years, followed sometime later by passenger travel.
Ultimately, MCR wants to extend the line, via the existing Churnet Valley Railway Line, to Alton Towers, with the intention of transporting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the theme park every year – and significantly reducing the weight of traffic passing through rural villages like Alton.
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MCR commercial director David Kemp said: "There's three angles. The first is renovating the line from Stoke to Cauldon Low. The track is all still down, but it is overgrown and it will need a fair bit of work.
"The idea is to get that cleared and running up to standard, then start running freight trains through. There's potential for bringing quarry products and cement, which will take heavy goods traffic off the roads.
"Then we want to take the line up a short distance from Leekbrook Junction to reconnect Leek with the national network and to the Potteries. This will involve laying about one mile of track.
"There will be development off the back of this and there's a fair bit of construction involved."
Mr Kemp estimates that the project could be completed in about four years.
MCR has not revealed how much the project will cost, but it has the backing of major investors.
MCR is a new company created purely to pursue the commercial project to reopen the railway line.
Mr Kemp and fellow MCR director Greg Wilson are also both directors of the Churnet Valley Railway.
Mr Wilson said the new line would open up Churnet Valley Railway as a major national heritage attraction.
He said: "It will provide a morale boost and a financial boost to the Churnet Valley Railway.
"It will open us up to the national rail network and it will put us on the map as being at the forefront of heritage railways. We are going to have a railway line with access north, south, east and west."
Mark Kerrigan, head of development and corporate affairs at Alton Towers, said: "Alton Towers remains committed to the effective management of traffic coming to our site and we have underlined various ways forward in our long-term plan.
"It is therefore with great interest that we hear about a possible rail link and we look forward to following the project as it progresses."
Allan Ruxton, Lafarge Cement UK's Cauldon Works manager, said: "Lafarge welcomes the announcement that MCR has acquired the disused railway line through to Cauldon Low.
"Over recent months we have been in touch with the company to discuss this development and long-term future options including the possibility of opening a line into our works.
"We are always looking at ways of increasing the sustainability of our operations and transport is a key area.
"The cost of establishing the last section of the line direct into Cauldon Works is too great to consider in the short to medium term.
"However, we remain very interested in working with the Government and now MCR to explore funding options for potential further development."
Although the track was still being used occasionally until the late 1980s, passenger services were withdrawn between Leek and Stoke in 1956. Commuters have not been transported along the line from Froghall since 1965, but good services continued until 1970.
Councillor Sybil Ralphs, leader of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council, said the authority recognised Churnet Valley as a vital tourism corridor.
She said: "It is the biggest thing to happen to the Moorlands in quite a while. In the past, towns were built on the railways. We hope to reinstate what should never have been taken away.
"The return of rail to the heart of the Moorlands for the first time in nearly 50 years is great news for the environment as it will promote sustainable transport, taking both freight and passengers off the road.
"The initiative will also help deliver our priority of a strong economy. MCR is looking to create jobs for local people while opening up the Churnet Valley Railway will transform it into one of Europe's largest heritage railways, in terms of both track mileage and visitor numbers.
"The linking of Leekbrook to the national rail network, via Stoke, will enable some of the world's most famous steam engines to visit Staffordshire for the first time. This is fantastic news for tourism and the local economy.
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