Could steam trains return to Ironbridge?
Steam trains could once again be rolling through Shropshire's World Heritage Site. Councillors are supporting a plan that could see a heritage railway come to Ironbridge.
Telford Steam Railway want to extend into Ironbridge using the town's former railway lines.
It wants to extend southwards from its newest stop in Lawley into the Gorge.
Conservative councillors have vowed to support the project and help the group get funding.
The plans have been put in place following the closure of Ironbridge Power Station in Buildwas, which closed its doors at the end of last year.
It is hoped that the Telford Steam Railway might be able to use the site to connect with its existing rail line.
Councillor Nicola Lowery, ward member for the Ironbridge Gorge, and Councillor Eric Carter, ward member for Newport South and East, have given their full support to Telford Steam Railway's plan to once again see heritage trains steam into Ironbridge Gorge after meeting TSR Chairman Paul Hughes.
Telford Steam Railway has plans to extend its rail network southward from the recently opened Lawley Village stop and to become a major tourism attraction.
The proposal would connect key points in Telford from Lawley Village right through to English Heritage's historic Buildwas Abbey.
A meeting was held between the two Telford & Wrekin borough councillors, Mr Hughes, Lord Grocott, cabinet member for transport, customer & neighbourhood services, Councillor Angela McClements, Telford & Wrekin councillor cabinet member for transport, customer and neighbourhood services and the transport and highways service delivery manager at Telford & Wrekin Council to explore the feasibility of the plans. After the meeting, Councillor Lowery said: "A number of studies have now been undertaken to establish the value of heritage railways to the local community.
"The All Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail has assessed the local economic impact of several heritage railways.
"This has suggested that for every £1 spent on heritage railways there will be an additional benefit of £2.70 to the local economy.
"The closure of the Ironbridge Power Station provides a important one-off opportunity for the group."
At one time dozens of steam trains would have run into the bustling industrial hub of the Ironbridge Gorge, taking coal and supplies to its foundries and workshops.
But in the 1960s, the Severn Valley Railways closed its line through Ironbridge, leaving only the small line bringing coal through Coalbrookdale into the power station at Buildwas.
Though it is unlikely that the former Severn Valley Railway line will be brought back into existence, with houses now built on portions of the line and subsidence in Jackfield where it once stood, volunteers from the railway hope they may be able to build a new line from its new Lawley station, which opened at the end of last year, into Buildwas.
In June, The Marches Strategic Rail Group said the closure of the power station was a golden opportunity to forge ahead with plans to extend routes in the area to attract more visitors and improve public transportation.
Ironbridge Power Station was closed by owners, energy giant E.ON, after 46 years service in November 2015.
Shropshire Council has revealed that it is working with the owners of several large development sites in the county on the creation of 'masterplans' for the power station.
Telford & Wrekin Council shadow transport cabinet member Councillor Eric Carter, who is also chairman of Marches Strategic Rail Group, said he is fully backing calls for close working between the borough and Shropshire Council over plans for the power station due to the railway opportunities.
Councillor Eric Carter said: "It has long been an ambition to see a steam railway run into Ironbridge and we are committed in offering our support to TSR by working with both local authorities, Uniper and National Rail."
Councillors are also working with Telford MP Lucy Allan to explore government funding opportunities for rail tourism from the Department for Transport.
Paul Hughes, TSR Chairman, added: "Telford Steam Railway's dream is to run steam trains from Lawley Village with its close connection to the M54, through the World Heritage Site at Coalbrookdale to Buildwas on the bank of the River Severn.
"The line would cross the A4169 by bridge, which has already been acquired by the Group from Network Rail.
"I believe TSR could become a gateway to the Ironbridge Gorge as we have the potential to carry over 100,000 passengers a year which would generate a substantial direct income making it sustainable in the long term."
He said it marked the start of a longer-term plan to turn the station into a headquarters for the railway service, which would be extended southwards to provide a park-and-ride service for tourists visiting Ironbridge.
In October last year, 53 years after the closure of the railway line between Horsehay and nearby Lawley, Lord Grocott – former MP Bruce Grocott – will perform the official opening of the new station at Lawley Village, just days after the completion of the new pagoda-style station building. The development took six or seven years and cost £150,000, moving 50,000 tonnes of soil to turn a muddy field into a working railway station.
Both steam locomotives and diesel multiple units – similar to the kind that would have operated in the 1950s – now operate along the line.
The trust also offers train driving lessons, which were recently featured on the BBC series Home Away From Home.
Commercial director Mark Paynter says that since the service to Lawley opened at Easter, there has been a huge growth in both visitor numbers, and the trust now has 300 members, with a hard core of around 30 volunteers keeping the service ticking over. At the moment, Lawley station can only be accessed by train, but the trust eventually hopes to create a 150-space car park with a path linking to the station, as well as a shop.
Since the opening of Lawley, Telford Steam Railway has been pointing its eyes south, with a view to extending the line into Doseley and now – potentially creating a major tourist attraction within the Ironbridge Gorge.