Ancient trains to rattle through Durham again as Weardale Railway is reopened after 17 years

By Culture24 Staff | 11 June 2010
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A photo of a large black locomotive steam train pulling into a station

A 47-ton post-war locomotive will run through an idyllic railway line in County Durham for the first time in 17 years this summer after a historic 16-mile coal route was reopened to provide “the ultimate rail experience” across heritage sites in the North-East.

The Durham Dales line has been reinstated for weekly services between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland by the Weardale Railway Trust, using the No 40 train, which was originally designed for the National Coal Board to transport miners between collieries before they were replaced by diesel trains in the 1960s.

The huge locomotive will run a selected service on Saturdays and Sundays, featuring a red and black design, speeds of up to 25 miles an hour and a capacity of 2,200 gallons of water. It was originally built in Newcastle by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorn in 1954 and can carry between 150 and 200 passengers.

As a newer diesel version, the Class 141 train will whisk up to 140 visitors at a time through the glorious surrounding landscape seven days a week, providing a more straightforward link between towns for local residents along the way.

A photo of a reverend smiling in front of a large steam train

The Dean of Durham gives the route his blessing

US-based company British American Railway Services will operate the track, which ceased operation after the closure of a nearby plant in 1993 and only began to be rebuilt five years ago.

The Chicago-based corporation is already responsible for short lines in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, Colorado and Oregon, and also runs The Dartmoor Railway in Devon.

“The Durham Dales provides a stunning backdrop to what promises to be one of County Durham’s most complete heritage packages,” said the company’s Mark Westerfield.

“North-East England, the birthplace and original heartbeat of steam, is the ideal location to host a project of this type. It’s a place where people are still passionate about celebrating a landmark era of engineering that has had a remarkable influence on society on a global scale.

A photo of a controller in a black uniform signalling as a train leaves a station

Historic figures turned out to celebrate the relaunch of the service

Westerfield praised the Trust’s 750 members, who laid on re-enactors of famous figures from railway history to celebrate the news and will play a key part in running the new track.

“The commitment and drive shown by our army of loyal and dedicated volunteers is one of the major reasons why this project will hopefully be a resounding success,” he added.

“They will ensure visitors have the ultimate rail experience, making them want to return time and time again.”

Avid train enthusiast The Very Reverend Michael Sadgrove, Dean of Durham, took to the tracks to bless the trains before their first voyages, calling County Durham “the cradle of the railway.”

A photo of two people in wartime dress at a railway station

The trains will take visitors on a tour of the region's rich history

“The heritage of our region is not simply its great buildings and wide landscapes, magnificent though they are,” he explained.

“It’s about how people have lived and worked for centuries, whether on the land or through the lead mining industry for which the railways were a vitallink to the region.

“It is good to know that the Weardale Railway has once more come into its own to connect the communities of Weardale to the rest of the County and help add to its revitalisation."

Visit County Durham’s Craig Wilson also saluted the return of the railway.

“The Weardale Railway is one of Durham’s true hidden gems, a heritage rail service that transports the visitor through the beautiful and picturesque Durham Dales and its charming market towns,” he said.

“Its annual calendar of events ensures that people come year round to experience Durham’s beautiful countryside, museums and award-winning attractions.”

Visit Weardale Railway online for all the details.

Images: Tony Griffiths

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