THE sun shone and crowds cheered as a heritage railway hosted a five day extravaganza to mark the reopening of a line after 64 years.
Celebrations took place at Ecclesbourne Valley Railway as the first passenger trains from Duffield since 1947, drew in to Wirksworth Station.
The £1.7 million project to restore all of the 8.5-mile single track has taken over a decade to complete, by a team of dedicated volunteers, and is set to provide a major tourism boost for the area.
The reopening gala saw the Queen’s cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, tour the two-platform station at Wirksworth and unveil a plaque commemorating his visit and the line’s opening.
Mercury reporter Julia Rodgerson and photographer Paul Robinson were invited to join one of the first parties as they journeyed through the Derwent Valley on the restored track.
Passengers Jean and Ray Jeffries, of Derby, travelled from Duffield to Wirksworth on the heritage diesel railcar and then back again.
Mr Jeffries said: “I’m very keen on maintaining old railways.
“I will use this service and bring my bike. You can put your bike on the train go up to Wirksworth then join the trail.”
Mrs Jeffries added: “It’s a lovely journey and the weather has made all the difference.”
Fellow traveller Chris Bristow, who runs a bed and breakfast in Wirksworth with his wife Denise, said: “It’s been brilliant. I’ve seen bits of the valley I haven’t seen before. One of our customers said they are going to come all the way to Wirksworth, from the south, by train now.”
The new line means rail users in Wirksworth can connect with mainline services at Duffield. Such journeys have not been possible since passenger trains from Wirksworth to Derby were scrapped after the Second World War because of increased competition from buses.
More than six decades on, paying customers can once again use the line after volunteers gave up more than 400,000 hours of their time to restore the track over the past ten years.
Volunteer Richard Buckby said: “We’ve been overwhelmed with the response.
“It was standing room only on the steam train. I have never seen so many people on the platform at Duffield.”
Mr Buckby said work would now continue to build a passing loop out of new track, so two trains could use the line at the same time.
Neil Ferguson-Lee, director of Wyvern Rail, which owns the railway, said the reopening event was a huge success. He added: “It’s been absolutely first class. We are delighted and it has probably been my best day at the railway.”
The line will now be open at weekends, bank holidays and on Wednesdays during the summer.