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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Auckland Project - Lessons for Fleetwood and the Fylde

No not the New Zealand dock area regeneration scheme complete with vintage tramway - but the one in the north east in County Durham. A lively article in today's Telegraph records the effort underway to reverse half a century of transport blight caused by the Home Counties number cruncher - Beeching - with closure of the railway serving towns and small communities to the west of Bishop Auckland.

Penned by Jonathan Rusher founder of the Auckland Project with aims for regeneration of a railway pioneering region and communities focussing in and around Bishop Auckland. Not just another heritage railway scheme to indulge the aspirations of steam engine fanatics - but a broad based economic revival that turns the clock forward with transformation of a wide area. The Weardale Railway would aid in reconnecting Bishop Auckland with Darlington and the east coast mainline - among many other benefits of this new connectivity.

Not that the region is short on railway heritage given the proximity of Shildon with its former goods wagon manufactory now a marvellous adjunct to the National Railway Museum in York, as well as the important 21st century railway infrastructure and investment of Hitachi Rail. Led by Durham County Council with full engagement of the Science Museum and private sector support - the Weardale line reopened to regular rail service is expected to cost £800,000 per mile with an estimated 19 miles of trackbed.

Proximity of the east coast mainline at Darlington (read West Coast Mainline at Preston) and the rejuvenation of a seamless rail link into the national network running north to Newcastle, Berwick and Edinburgh - and south into London would transform both Bishop Auckland and its neighbouring communities to the west. Having visited Durham and its cathedral, Shildon and the railway museum there, and more recently Darlington with its impressive railway museum using a former station - I can attest personally to the value of leisure spend outside of the obvious tourist headline destinations. Not to mention the boost to community pride and aspirations.

A volunteer led scheme for the Weardale Line is well established, but with finite resources and need for private sector engagement, especially a Train Operator (TOC) partner to crunch the numbers and provide professional muscle in next steps. Reading the article in today's Telegraph gave pause for reflection of the longstanding efforts here on the Fylde to renew once more Fleetwood and the north fylde coast's ever present objectives of bringing about rail services into the locality using dormant infrastructure left behind after Beeching left. Fleetwood too has an especial (indeed memorable) place in England's railway heritage as well as an equally important role in forming part of the very first electric interurban tramway to be installed in the country - and remarkably still operating today.

The delivery of trainloads of whitefish from quay sides on the Wyre once helped transform the diet of industrial England - with Fleetwood ice still being produced to the present day as essential underpinning of both trawlers traversing the north atlantic waters; as well as railway transportation overnight to major cities and markets throughout England - courtesy of the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway from Wyre Dock, Fleetwood.

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