17/03/2020: Leek Website Grant Application Update
26/02/2020: The Border Explorer Event
The Churnet Valley Railway (CVR) is working towards its long-term goal of re-opening the railway line into the market town of Leek, Staffordshire, a town not connected to rail since 1970. Achieving this would be the first step in what could lead to the largest heritage standard rail network in the UK.
The Railway wants to extend its line less than a mile Northwards from the recently re-opened Leekbrook Junction Station, into Leek, the most important town in the Staffordshire Moorlands, helping to increase tourism within this part of Staffordshire.
However, although a relatively short distance to re-lay, during the fifty or so years since the line has been lifted, the track-bed has been criss-crossed with a myriad of services, such as gas, electric, telephone and two main sewers. Furthermore, the original station site is no longer available and a new site just south of the original, is on a brown field site, complete with its own problems and costs.
Therefore, some time and cost will be involved in redirecting or protecting services – difficult but achievable!
The plan is to reconnect the CVR with Leek, the principal market town in North Staffordshire, which lost its rail service as a result of the notorious 1960’s Beeching Axe. Whilst the Churnet Valley line survived until the 1980s because of local quarry sand traffic, Leek lost its passenger services in January 1965 and was completely cut off in July 1970, with the track quickly removed. Over time the former Goods Yard was sold off and slowly developed into the Barnfield Industrial Estate, whilst the former station site itself was demolished in 1973, and a supermarket built over it that is now occupied by Morrisons.
Churnet Valley Railway
The Churnet Valley Railway is a heritage railway operating between Leekbrook, Cheddleton and Kingsley & Froghall stations in Staffordshire, England. Originating as Cheddleton Steam Centre in 1974, the current set up came into existence in 1992 and now boasts being the second biggest tourist attraction in the area – second only to the Alton Towers Resort. The railway is operated by volunteers most weekends and Bank Holidays between February and December, with additional midweek running in the school holidays, plus special events throughout the year.
Attempts To Re-open
Preservationists of Staffordshire have made several attempts over the years to re-open the section of line to Leek for use as a heritage railway, all of which have sadly failed to come to fruition – until now.
The first attempt came about in the early 1970s, when the embryonic "Cheshire and Staffordshire Railway Society" put forwards proposals for a Leek to Rudyard Lake heritage line.
Moorland & City Railways
In 2009 support for the CVR arrived in the form of Moorlands & City Railways Ltd (MCR), who acquired a 150-Year lease on the 8.5 – mile Cauldon Branch, including trackwork at Leekbrook Junction, and with CVR’s assistance set about re-opening this as a freight route to the stone and cement quarries. The line re-opened in November 2010, and this launched a much more ambitious project that would see one of the biggest private rail networks in the UK come into fruition.
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council
In summer 2017 the Churnet Valley Railway was grateful to receive a grant of £22,000 from Staffordshire Moorlands Partnership Board (SMPB) that assisted in covering the planning fees and associated environmental studies and surveys for a rail re-instatement. The CVR subsequently submitted a brand-new planning application in collaboration with Staffordshire Moorlands District Council themselves in February 2018, which received Outline Planning Permission in May 2018.
The First Step
With planning now agreed, the Churnet Valley Railway was able to create a definitive plan for re-instatement. However, officially the land is still owned by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council and so a formal access agreement and lease is required before physical works can commence. However not all of the extension is SMDC owned, as the first 200 metres from the current railhead over the sewage crossing to the former sand sidings headshunt is owned by the CVR.
With this in mind, as a statement of intent, the CVR did a costing exercise that estimated £40,000 would enable this first length to be re-instated with new sleepers and ballast, plus second-hand rails.
The Permanent Way Institution
This initial First Step of installing track was undertaken by The Permanent Way Institution (PWI) on a voluntary basis and formed their annual Practical Trackwork Challenge for 2019.
Brian Counter, Technical Director at PWI said of the plans "we are delighted to be holding our third Practical Trackwork Challenge at Leekbrook. This unique 2-day 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".
European Agriculture Fund For Rural Development
The full estimated cost of the re-instatement is approximately £1.2 million. For the Churnet Valley Railway to meet this cost themselves through ticket sales alone would take multiple decades, especially when also considering the maintenance requirements of the current set-up. This timescale is totally inappropriate for the needs of reconnecting into Leek, and so alternative solutions were sought.