Fleetwood’s rail link moved closer to getting back on track this week after a train was finally acquired to provide the service.
Poulton and Wyre Railway Society have come to an arrangement with the owners of a two-carriage diesel train which guarantees they have the vehicle they need for their ambitious project.
To finally be in this position is extremely exciting
They have put down two-thirds of the cash on the £15,000 diesel multiple unit and expect to pay the final £5,000 off within the next 12 months. But the group need an overall total of £30,000 to get the 1970s vehicle up to scratch so it can pass the equivalent of its MOT.
And they are hoping Fleetwood and Wyre groups or individuals can help through fund-raisers or donations to raise the final £15,000 for the work needed.
The success of the project would see the rail link finally returning to Fleetwood since it was scrapped over 40 years ago.
Society chairman, Eddie Fisher, says the timing of the latest development is particularly apt as it was 175 years ago that the railway first came to Fleetwood, in 1840.
Mr Fisher said: “To finally be in this position is extremely exciting.
“We have acquired the train from an organisation called the Midland Railway at Butterley in Derbyshire and they have given us leeway to come up with the rest of the money to pay it off, which we are confident of getting.
“We are busy fund-raising ourselves and aim to get the total overall sum of £30,000 as soon as possible, but we would benefit from any help at all.
“We know these are tough times for local transport services, with the Knott End ferry, the trams and buses at risk.
“If we can achieve our aims, Fleetwood will have its rail back, up and running, between 2017 and 2020 and it will be a massive benefit to Fleetwood.”
The Railway Society plan is to provide a heritage railway in the area, initially between Thornton and Burn Naze where there is existing track as well as established platforms.
But it is hoped to then extend the line to the south end of Fleetwood - at least as far as Chris Allen’s Garage - and also to Poulton.
It will mean that passengers can catch the train in Fleetwood, travel to Poulton, and then step across a platform to join the main rail network to the rest of the country.
Mr Fisher explained that the train was currently stored at Butterley, where the MOT work will be carried out by Llangollan Railcars Ltd, an organisation which repairs trains.
The Class 108 train, identical to those which would have operated in Fleetwood in the early 1970s, comprises two carriages which are both self-powered by diesel engines, with a driver’s cab at either end.
It needs some body work repairs and a full re-paint in its original British Rail green livery.
The voluntary group has spent years removing weeds, tidying up the railway lines and the platforms across Thornton in preparation for its scheme.
There is warm support for the restoration of the rail link in Fleetwood, although with Lancashire County Council cutbacks in danger of affecting several local services, fundraising group may be faced with several projects in need of support.
Fleetwood historian Dick Gillingham, a trustee and volunteer at Fleetwood Museum, said: “I really welcome the fact they are moving forward with the rail link, it is close to my heart.
“My dad worked on the railway when it was at Fleetwood docks and I wish them well.
“There are so many projects that may be in need support at the moment, including Fleetwood Museum, but a lot of people would dearly love to see the rail link restored and will support it if they can.”
Coun Terry Rogers, chairman of Fleetwood Town Council, said he welcomed the news that a train had been acquired but in terms of funding, the council had wider issues to consider at present.
He said: “It is good timing in that it would mean a welcome transport link at a time when we are in danger of losing services, including the Knott End ferry.
“But it does come a time when the town council needs to look at whether it can help to financially support those services it is in danger of imminently losing.
“So the train link is something we would look to support in the future.”
If anyone is able to help the rail scheme, they can write to: Sponsor a train to Fleetwood appeal.
Poulton & Wyre Railway Society, C/O The Print Room, Hillhouse Business Park, Thornton, FY54QD.
Sponsorship forms are available on the PWRS website at www.pwrs.org. The group says it would make it easier to process donations if they use the form.