Proposals to revive a disused rail line through the Peak District have moved a step forward, but not the passenger service some have called for.
A consortium of major quarry companies and Peak Rail, which operates the heritage service between Rowsley and Matlock, is to issue a tender for bids to carry out a feasibility study on extending the line north-west to Peak Forest.
Consultants will be invited to explore the engineering and administrative challenges involved, to identify any issues and potential costs.
Paul Tomlinson, the project director for Peak Rail, said: “The principal motivation is to provide a more direct route for the expanding stone traffic between the Peak District, the Midlands and the south of England and thereby relieve the busy passenger rail routes it currently follows.”
The consortium involves quarries towards the northern end of the proposed line, including Tarmac and Breedon Aggregates, who would look to secure private finance for the project.
Paul said: “Network Rail and Transport for the North are looking for ways to speed up passenger journeys on the Hope Valley line linking Sheffield with Manchester.
“By rerouting freight traffic, you could reduce congestion and the government would not need to pay for it.”
He added: “With major infrastructure projects like HS2, Crossrail 2 and the Heathrow expansion, demand for aggregates is expected to rise and Derbyshire is a major source.”
Peak Rail has long held ambitions to reopen the line between Buxton and Matlock, so it can extend heritage services. Paul said: “We now realise the cost and works involved would be beyond us as a voluntary organisation, but this would be a way to achieve our goal and benefit the local tourist industry.”
The leisure and tourism benefits may ultimately prove contentious, as the old line ran along what is now the Monsal Trail, a popular walking route.
Paul said: “The feasibility study will also look at any costs involved over the wider network and in continuing to cater for walking and cycling within the national park.”
At present, there are no plans to include a full passenger service, despite an ongoing online petition with 10,000 signatures calling for it.
Paul said: “That’s certainly not on our agenda. A mainline passenger service would mean the costs would escalate through the roof.”
The study is expected to be complete later this year.