RAIL enthusiasts who spent over 30 years painstakingly restoring a rare locomotive back to its former glory have been shortlisted for a national award.

The Darlington Railway Preservation Society bought Locomotive No 78018 in 1981 and have spent four decades raising money and working on the engine.

In October it was back on the tracks for the first time in 50 years at the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire as the star of the show in the heritage railway's Autumn Steam Gala - an emotional moment for former Darlington Mayor and DRPS member Barrie Lamb.

The engine was finished off in the Midlands thanks to the Loughborough Standard Locomotive Group, who offered their larger sheds to DRPS in the final stages of 78018's restoration, when the project outgrew the workshop in Darlington.

Mr Lamb said he opened Steam Railway Magazine last week to discover the DRPS and the Loughborough group had been nominated for a rail preservation award for their efforts in bringing 78018 back to life.

They will find out in February, at the Heritage Railway Association AGM, if they have won.

With more than 200 heritage railways now operating around the country, being shortlisted for the HRA's rail preservation award is a huge accolade for the groups.

78018, a British Rail Standard Class 2 engine built at Darlington's North Road Works, is one of only four of its kind left and is well-known because it was stuck in a snowdrift on the Pennines, close to the Stainmore summit, for five days in February 1955.

The epic efforts to free the locomotive were captured on film and retold on the British Transport Films' short movie, Snowdrift at Bleath Gill.

78018 began life in the West Auckland sheds in 1954 and transferred on to England's highest railway, the Tebay to Barnard Castle line.

In 1960 it was moved to Chester Midland before it was withdrawn from service in 1966 and sent to a scrapyard in Wales, where it stayed for 11 years,

Another group of enthusiasts brought it from there, but, according to Mr Lamb, decided it was "too big a job", so the DRPS brought it home to Darlington.

"We thought it would take a couple of years to have it ready and steaming again," he said. "But half the stuff was missing and that is why it has taken so long. We couldn't get any lottery money. It has been all been raised by members themselves.

"It was a very emotional, hard-to-describe moment seeing No. 78018 steaming slowly into the station in October while we stood on the platform. You couldn't help but think about all the people who had helped work on it, who weren't there to see it finished.

"We feel very privileged to have been shortlisted for this award."