A heritage railway in Shropshire is poised for expansion after the Government handed over its operations to a community group.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has agreed to hand rights over for the branch line between Gobowen, Oswestry and Blodwel to Cambrian Heritage Railways.
The Cambrian Railways Order will see Network Rail transfer all rights and liabilities over to the former branch line, which closed in the Beeching cuts of the 1960s.
Several stretches of the line have already been acquired and reopened in parts. The latest move paves the way for the extension of the track as far as the Western Wharf on the edge of Oswestry, linking it with other businesses such as the Stonehouse Brewery.
The long-term aim is to extend the railway to the mainline station at Gobowen. It could also mean the introduction of a tram system linking Gobowen Station to the nearby orthopaedic hospital, which is another part of the overall plan for the group of railways.
Cambrian trustee Roger Date said: “This will mean that all the various railways that we are running can connect up. The opportunities for Oswestry and the area are immense. The number of people that could come by train for the heritage railway and then visit the town is exponential.”
The railway reopened for passengers in 2011, but the latest order means the heritage railway has a right to use the line in a way that previously rested with Network Rail, and formally approves the opening of the railway.
Councillor Vince Hunt, Oswestry’s deputy mayor, said: “This act will help them to develop their offer to the public. The railway is looking to see the route under and beyond the Gasworks Bridge and on to Weston Wharf opened.
“I would love to see the railway go all the way to Gobowen but we have to look at that for the long term. In the meantime reopening the line to Weston Wharf is a first, exciting step.”
Transport and Works Orders authorise new railway or tramway schemes in England and Wales. One of the main problems with reopening the line in full is that it crosses two of the busiest roads in Shropshire – the A5 near Oswestry and the A483 Welshpool road.
But the railway’s operators have “presented indicative designs for the crossings without level crossings”, according to the Department for Transport, which says the move will boost Oswestry’s tourism and improve links to the orthopaedic hospital.Subscribe to our Newsletter