The Elsecar Heritage Railway (EHR) Trust, a group of volunteers which has maintained the railway line from Elsecar to Hemingfield since 2006, previously had an agreement in place with an outside engineering firm to cope with the labour and financial demands of the project.
But spiralling financial problems, compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic, saw the trust surrender the lease back to the council.
Questions still remain over certain parts of the track and infrastructure, with the authority claiming it will begin disposing of ‘some rolling stock and equipment’ not expected to be used in the future.
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 - was previously sold by the trust, reportedly without the knowledge of board members.
The heritage centre where the site’s located will see parts reopen to the public on Monday.
A council spokesperson said: “Barnsley Council want to make sure that there’s a future for a heritage railway in Elsecar.
“It’s a much-loved place and a real asset for the village and its industrial heritage.
“Working closely with the Elsecar Heritage Railway Trust, Barnsley Council will be talking with partners, volunteers and the local community over the summer to explore options for the future and to find out what people would like to see.
“They will also look at future volunteering opportunities to support the project.
“More information will be shared about this soon.”
The EHR Trust 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 whole track 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 a stumbling block, 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.
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 in 2019, 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.
“Although the railway is closed at the moment, hard work has been ongoing behind the scenes to evaluate the condition of the site, its buildings and railway equipment,” the council spokesperson added.
“Over the coming weeks, some rolling stock and equipment will be leaving the Elsecar Heritage Railway site.
“These have either come to the end of their working life, are no longer in use at the railway or are not expected to be used in the future.”
Barnsley East MP Stephanie Peacock called the railway a ‘central part’ of Barnsley’s proud industrial and cultural heritage
“As the MP for Barnsley East and the Chair of the Industrial Heritage All-Party Parliamentary Group, I’m committed to ensuring our local history and heritage are accessible and protected for future generations,” she said.
“While it’s disappointing that the railway is not currently operating, I welcome Barnsley Council’s commitment to ensure that it has a future in Elsecar.
“Over the summer, the council will be consulting on next steps and the future of the heritage railway, and it’s important that local residents in Elsecar have a voice and a role in that process.”