New rail line will destroy heritage trail for just two trains a week

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Almost pounds 700,000 is to be spent on restoring a railway line to be used by only two or three trains a week and which will destroy part of a tourist attraction.

Residents near Bodmin in north Cornwall are planning a legal challenge against the ministerial decision because the scheme to restore the line, promoted by a company in which the local Liberal MP is a shareholder, was twice turned down by a planning inspector.

The decision by John Watts, the transport minister, has further baffled those living near the former Bodmin and Wenford line because there is only one possible user, English China Clays, and there are doubts whether it will make use of it.

The controversy sets two environmentally friendly government policies against each other: transferring freight from road to rail and encouraging cycling and walking. Bringing back trains would take six miles out of the Camel Trail, a 17-mile walk along a disused railway. The trail attracts 350,000 cyclists and walkers per year.

The pounds 1.37m scheme is proposed by a rail preservation society, the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway, which says that the line would be only for freight.

Paul Tyler, the MP for North Cornwall who is a shareholder in the society, says he has "made no representations either way". However, one resident, Gabrielle Mounder, who lives next to the line, says: "If he were representing local views, he would be opposed to the line."

Another opponent, Richard Moore, says that only around 20 lorries a day would be taken off the road. "To destroy a big tourist attraction for such little traffic is just not worthwhile."

The scheme would only be viable for a freight facilities grant from the Government - in this case around pounds 685,000. English China Clays did not appear at either of the two planning inquiries which rejected the scheme. But the company has stressed it will only use the line if it is viable. Mike Ripley, the logistics director, said: "We are absolutely neutral. We will only use the line if the cost is the same price or cheaper."

Roger Webster, manager of the steam railway company, said: "We realise it would damage the Camel trail but it would take traffic off the roads."

Ms Mounder said: "They really are a bunch of train nuts who want to play with their trains. They want to boast that they are the first private preservation railway to run freight."

Letters, page 15