THE QUEEN will be chuffed – and so will the thousands of passengers who use it every year.

Planning chiefs have approved an application to extend the steam railway at one of Hampshire’s top attractions – the award-winning Exbury Gardens near Beaulieu.

Exbury has been given permission to lengthen the narrow gauge line, enabling visitors to view an area that is not currently open to the public.

The Queen has been a fan of the railway since she named one of the locomotives in 2008 and rode in the cab.

Three years later it was the turn of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall to board the train.

Two of Britain’s best-loved actresses, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Maggie Smith, have also travelled on the Exbury Express.

The railway, which includes a bridge, a tunnel and a viaduct, is currently one-and-a-half miles long.

Earlier this year Exbury asked the National Park Authority (NPA) for planning permission to build a quarter-mile extension to the line to include an area known as North Lake and Dragonfly Pond.

No objections to the application were received, but locals said there must be no increase in noise or litter.

Ken Robinson, representing the residents of nearby Gilbury Lane, told the NPA: “We have no objection to the proposed extension of the railway and the creation of related facilities provided there is no increase in the use of train whistles and that litter related to the picnic site is well managed.”

Now the application has been granted, subject to conditions.

An NPA report says: “The proposal is to extend the miniature railway so that it circles an existing pond and then rejoins the main track.

"New Forest District Council and the NPA’s tourism officer support the proposal, saying it would provide a greater opportunity for visitors to enjoy the special qualities of the national park.”

The report says the site is well screened by trees and shrubs and is also well away from Exbury House, a Grade II listed building.

An Exbury spokesman added: “It’s an area of the gardens that isn’t currently accessible to the public so this will open it up for their enjoyment.

"The cost is being minimised by the Exbury railway team and volunteers doing a large part of the work themselves.”

Owned by a branch of the Rothschild family, the gardens have been open to the public since the 1950s.

The railway was added in 2001 and takes visitors on a 20-minute journey through the site overlooking the Beaulieu River.