VOLUNTEERS at the East Lancashire Railway have been honoured with a special award from the Queen.

The team, which works to restore, preserve and operate the railway, was given the Queen's Award for voluntary service – the highest award a voluntary group can receive in the UK.

The 12-mile long heritage railway runs from Heywood in the east to Rawtenstall in the north, passing through Bury, Summerseat, Ramsbottom and Irwell Vale.

East Lancashire Railway chairman, Mike Kelly, said he was delighted with the honour and paid tribute to all members of the team.

Mr Kelly said: "As a predominantly volunteer run organisation, the award acknowledges the hard work and dedication of our 700 volunteers that help run the railway on a day-to-day basis and is something that we will all treasure for a long time to come.

"As chairman of the railway I am immensely proud of what our volunteer team has accomplished over the past 30 years, from the initial steps to preserving the line to running one of the North West’s most successful tourist attractions, without their passion and commitment we would not have the railway that we have today.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of our wonderful volunteers and let them know just how much they are appreciated.”

The railway is operated using a range of preserved steam and diesel locomotives to haul vintage train services through the scenic Irwell Valley.

It is the third most popular paid visitor attraction in Greater Manchester and welcomes over 160,000 visitors each year. It is run by the East Lancashire Light Railway Company and staffed by members of the East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society.

Both the company and the society are voluntary organisations, which together make up the East Lancashire Railway.

Peter Duncan, former chairman of the railway, attended a garden party at Buckingham Palace last month, where he met the Queen and other winners of this year’s award.

The railway was one of 193 charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups to receive the prestigious award which is the highest award given to local volunteer groups.

The awards were created in 2002 to celebrate the Queen’s Golden Jubilee and winners are announced each year on June 2– the anniversary of the Queen’s Coronation. They will receive the award from the Lord Lieutenant of Greater Manchester later this summer.

A voluntary group which spent many hours cleaning up in Bury has also been recognised by the Queen.

The World Mission Society Church of God (UK ZION) based in Old Trafford are a group of volunteers who work across Manchester and the surrounding areas helping out.

And Her Majesty has also honoured former Bury College students. Participants in the Xplode Magazine project, who work across the UK assisting 12 to 22 year olds with their employability skills, were given the Queen's Award for voluntary service.