Snowdon railway gets green signal

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ENVIRONMENTALISTS reacted angrily yesterday after the Deputy Prime Minister approved plans to rebuild a railway through Snowdonia national park in Wales.

John Prescott has overruled a public-inquiry decision and will allow the Festiniog Railway Company to reconstruct the Welsh Highland Railway, which has been closed since 1937.

The scheme, to be partly funded by a pounds 4.3m Millennium Commission grant, will create 100 jobs and boost tourism, say its backers. It will reopen a 21-mile route for steam and diesel engines between Caernarfon and Porthmadog.

Critics, including the mountaineer Sir Chris Bonington, say it will damage the landscape and cause farming problems.

However, Mr Prescott said yesterday: "After giving very careful consideration to this complex and sensitive case, I am satisfied that the benefits of the scheme outweigh the disadvantages, and it would be in the public interest to allow it to proceed. I am satisfied the railway can safely be taken through the national park without causing unacceptable harm to the environment."

He had referred earlier to economic and wider public benefits, including the reduction of traffic in the national park.

Rory Francis, director of the Snowdonia Society, said he was disappointed. The railway would have a "substantial visual impact", he said, adding: "We and other environmental groups have made a positive alternative suggestion that the track bed could be used as a long-distance footpath or cycleway. There would be similar economic benefits without any of the environmental problems."

More than 300 objections were lodged against the railway at a 1997 public inquiry. The inspector recommended refusal.