A CHARITY which operates a popular Barnsley visitor attraction has been forced to give up the site’s lease due to spiralling problems, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Elsecar Heritage Railway (EHR) Trust, a group of volunteers which has maintained the railway line from Elsecar to Hemingfield since 2006, has for years had an agreement in place with an outside engineering firm in a bid to cope with the labour and financial demands of the project.

This resulted in the sale of one of the site’s prized assets - the almost 70-year-old ‘Mardy Monster’ steam locomotive which has hauled carriageloads of families at events held at Elsecar Heritage Centre - reportedly without the knowledge of board members.

The group invested significant sums of money - including £50,000 into the restoration of the Mardy Monster - alongside a £50,000 Big Lottery grant, and funding from sources such as the local ward alliance and Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme, and had plans to reinstate the historic line to Cortonwood.

The Chronicle understands the EHR Trust can lay claim to the new track and infrastructure on this line, which has been in place for a number of years.

The whole track to Cortonwood has been laid, but delays over the Tingle Bridge Lane crossing at Hemingfield have left the remaining mile inoperational.

The unused portion of the track, including the level crossing - which has been the stumbling block of the project, due to approval being required from a number of parties including the council and Office of Rail and Road - is thought to have cost upwards of £40,000.

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And financial woes exacerbated by a loss of income due to Covid-19 have now culminated in the lease to the site, which operates a single-track line from the heritage centre to Hemingfield, being handed back over to Barnsley Council.

The Chronicle contacted the EHR Trust, but it’s understood the enquiry was forwarded to the council and no trust members have attempted to comment on the situation.

Coun Robert Frost, cabinet support member for place (regeneration and culture), said: “We’re aware that local charity, Elsecar Heritage Railway Trust, has faced a number of challenges, and that the site is currently closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“As landlord to the site, we’ve been in regular contact with trustees of Elsecar Heritage Railway Trust to look at ways to address these challenges and to make the railway a viable attraction.

“The board of trustees at Elsecar Heritage Railway Trust have expressed that their best, and only course of action is to surrender their lease to the railway sites that are owned by Barnsley Council while further work takes place to determine their next steps.

“The railway sites include Elsecar, Cortonwood and the railway line between them.”

The railway line, originally built in 1850 to transport coal and iron from Elsecar to Mexborough, was reopened by the council in 1994.

The line to Cortonwood, where a miners’ memorial park and new £25,000 station were planned to open to the public last year, fell into disrepair when the colliery was closed in the miners’ strike in 1984/85.

The EHR Trust, initially called the Elsecar Railway Preservation Group, took on what’s believed to have been a 50-year lease to the site in 2006 as the heritage centre became a focus for tourism.

Coun Frost added: “The railway is an important part of Barnsley’s history and visitor offer and we’re committed to securing the future of the railway for residents and future generations to enjoy.”