A Wigan businessman is reversing decades of transport policy by bringing a long-neglected borough railway line back into operation.
Les Bailey’s company PF Jones has invested “a seven-figure sum” over several years on the ambitious labour of love to restore a freight connection to a leading firm supplying building materials.
Around three-quarters of a mile of track from the Haydock Branch junction to the Hanson Aggregates site on Edge Green Road have been painstakingly prepared to receive huge industrial trains once more.
Thousands of tonnes of stone will soon be rolling into the business each day after countless hours of labour clearing overgrown vegetation and replacing sections of rotten line.
With the first train hoping to roll this week Mr Bailey, from Ashton, hopes the unexpected reintroduction of freight trains to the area will provide an environmental boost, reduce gridlock on the roads and inspire other firms to consider ditching HGVs.
Mr Bailey, 62, said: “One train can carry quite a few thousand tonnes of stone. A lot of wagon-loads would have to come in for every one train load.
“If you look at Ashton and other local places the infrastructure is not right for heavy wagons. This takes them off the road.
“Trains are a love of mine and I liked the local historical significance of it. I thought it would be a bit of a boost for Ashton to get a rail link open again. There are not too many places where that is happening.
“It has been a long dig and a big project. Eventually we will be talking seven-figure sums. It’s a lot of money but it’s going to be good.
“A lot of people didn’t even know the line was still there. I think it will create jobs and a bit of a buzz for the local area. Golborne is traditionally a pit town and this site was originally a pit.
“It’s some good news instead of all the doom and gloom of places closing down.”
Mr Bailey admits the top bosses at Hanson Aggregates, which is the tenant of PF Jones at the Ashton site, took some convincing about the line but the project then got full backing and the go-ahead around three years ago.
The line was originally built in 1899 and last saw active service in 2015, when an enthusiast’s train ran on it.
Mr Bailey employed a firm from Cardiff to carry out the enormous tasks of removing vegetation and clearing the surroundings while also replacing rotten sleepers and metal rails which had been bent out of shape.
Work is currently progressing day and night to get everything ready for the slated first train run on Monday. When in operation each railway journey will bring 22,300 tonnes of stone on 24 carriages to the former Kelbit Bitumen site from Hanson Aggregates’ quarry at Shap in Cumbria.
Only one train is expected to run to the site per day as unloading all the material could take as long as five hours.
Mr Bailey says he is not looking too far ahead but if the freight link is a success there are other things he would like to see with the area’s railways and the restored branch line, which previously ran as far as Haydock Racecourse.
He said: “We have to walk before we can run with this, but in the future I don’t see any reason why stone couldn’t go out of the site as well or why other people shouldn’t go back to freight rail.
“There are so many wagons coming through the centre of Ashton and Golborne and you can imagine the chaos it is causing.
“The line can carry on and a bridge is still there but the line would need re-laying and it would cost a fortune.
“It could even be a heritage line at some point. The potential is unbelievable.
“I would also like to think opening this line could be a kick up the backside of the Government for them to get Golborne reconnected to the passenger network. I would love to see that.”