Stanhope Station, 2004
|Original gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Length||18 mi (29 km)|
|Preserved gauge||4 ft 8 1⁄2 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge|
|Opened||19 April 1842|
|30 January 1843||Passenger service|
|8 November 1843||Freight service|
|Closed to passengers||1953|
|Late 2009||Reconnected to the National Network|
|23 May 2010||Weardale Railway resumes passenger service|
|Easter 2016||Witton-le-Wear Reopens|
The Weardale Railway is an independently owned British single-track branch line Heritage Railway between Bishop Auckland, Witton-le-Wear, Wolsingham, Frosterley and Stanhope. Weardale Railway services began on 23 May 2010, but decided to run special trains rather than a scheduled service for the 2013 season.
The railway originally ran from Bishop Auckland to Wearhead in County Durham, North-East England, a distance of 25 miles (40 km), built in the nineteenth century to carry limestone from Eastgate-in-Weardale, and provide passenger services to Weardale. Passenger services ceased in 1953, leaving only freight services to Eastgate until 1992.
After the quarry's owner Lafarge moved to road transport in 1993, the line was threatened with closure by British Rail (BR), and it was taken over by a group of enthusiasts. The Weardale Railway currently runs for 18 miles (29 km) between Bishop Auckland and the site of Eastgate-in-Weardale Station, making the line one of the longest preserved standard gauge heritage railways in Great Britain.
Bishop Auckland gained its first rail link in 1842, when the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) backed Bishop Auckland and Weardale Railway (BA&WR) gained the powers via an Act of Parliament to build a railway line from the S&DR's station at Shildon via Bishop Auckland and Witton-le-Wear into Crook, County Durham. The BA&WR initially built a temporary terminus at South Church, which opened on 19 April 1842. After completion of the Shildon tunnel, the BA&WR erected a permanent station on the current site, which opened to freight on 8 November 1843, and passengers on 30 January 1843. All operations were sub-leased as agreed to the S&DR.
In 1844, after the West Durham Railway extended from a junction with the Clarence Railway at Byers Green to Crook, the S&DR extended the BA&WR from Bishop Auckland along the river valley to Witton-le-Wear, and then into Crook. In 1845, the S&DR came to an agreement with the Derwent Iron Company to sub-lease the southern section of the former Stanhope and Tyne Railway. It extended the line from Crook to Waskerley and then to Blackhill. That line was opened as the Weardale Extension Railway (WXR).
In July 1845 Parliament passed the Wear Valley Act, which allowed the extension of the BA&WR from a junction at Witton-le-Wear to Frosterley, and a small branchline across the river to Bishopley. With all works again undertaken by the S&DR, this line opened on 3 August 1847. After these works had been completed, the BA&WR amalgamated with the WXR. All service were operated by the S&DR, which officially took over the new company in January 1857.
In 1862, an Act of Parliament was passed allowing the S&DR backed Frosterley & Stanhope Railway to extend the line to Stanhope, thus allowing trains to transport limestone from the Newlandside Estate on the south side of the town.
The final extension of the Weardale Railway to Wearhead opened on 21 October 1895. Between Eastgate and Westgate at Cambo Keels, sidings were established to serve the Weardale Iron Company's Heights limestone quarry, which is still in operation today.
Decline and closure
As elsewhere the UK, rail traffic in the area declined after World War II, with the Wearhead branch the first to lose its passenger trains in 1953. The principal closures came in the 1960s, post the Beeching Axe. Services to Barnard Castle via West Auckland ended in 1962, those to Durham in 1964, and to Crook in 1965. That left only the former original S&DR line to Darlington line in operation, along with the freight-only branch traffic to Eastgate.
Durham County Council recognised the value of the line to leisure services by 1983 when, with the patronage of David Bellamy, intermittent specials began to serve Stanhope again under the banner of "The Heritage Line", because of the S&DR association. This became a scheduled weekend-only summer service, printed in BR public timetables, between 23 May 1988 and 27 September 1992. Etherley, otherwise known as Witton Park Station, was re-opened on 21 August 1991. It has not re-opened under the post 2010 Weardale Railway operation.
In March 1993, Lafarge decided to service the Eastgate cement works by road and end its use of rail. British Rail then announced its intention to close the line due to the loss of revenue. Local authorities sought another use for the line and considered that the only immediate possibility was a steam-hauled tourist service.
Formation of Weardale Railway Trust
The Weardale Railway preservation project was founded in 1993, with the intention that a private company should take ownership of the line and start a steam service for tourists on the scenic western section. The operating company was known as the Weardale Railways Ltd, a company limited by guarantee.
The Weardale Railway Trust (WRT) is a voluntary group whose members are supporters of the project. WRT was initially just a "supporters' club" but it assumed a more prominent role as Weardale Railways Ltd got into difficulties. In 2006 WRT took a 12.5% minority stake in the ownership of Weardale Railways Ltd.
Large sums of public sector grant finance were obtained or conditionally pledged from various donors including the Regional development agency (One NorthEast), Durham County Council and the Wear Valley District Council. The Manpower Services Commission contributed to the wages of paid staff in what had become an area of high unemployment, and this allowed a 40-strong workforce to be recruited, a depot and base of operations to be established at Wolsingham and the station at Stanhope to be restored. Services started in July 2004, initially from Wolsingham to Stanhope but with the intention of extending them along the full length of the remaining line. There were even plans to rebuild the Eastgate to Wearhead section which had been lifted.
Eventually, a community interest company known as Ealing Community Transport agreed to pay £100,000 for a 75% stake in Weardale Railways Ltd and provide management support to the project. Ealing Community Transport also agreed to underwrite any further operating losses incurred by Weardale Railways Ltd. This undertaking was sufficient to allow the creditors of Weardale Railways Ltd to permit the resumption of limited services on the line in August 2006.
British American Railway Services
In September 2008, Ealing Community Transport's 75% interest in WRC was transferred to British American Railway Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of US private company Iowa Pacific Holdings. Ed Ellis, the spokesman for these firms, visited the Weardale Railway in October 2008, and announced an intention to reopen the line to Bishop Auckland by the end of 2008.
In October 2008, the line's paid staff and volunteers undertook the "Brush Blitz" to clear 14 years of vegetation growth from the track between Wolsingham and Bishop Auckland. After two damaged sections of track were repaired, in early 2009 a passenger-carrying Wickham trolley (light rail vehicle) was able to negotiate the line from Wolsingham to within sight of Bishop Auckland station. Ellis also announced plans to build a rail freight terminal at Eastgate for the loading of aggregates from local quarries together with other freight, including mineral, food and agricultural commodities.
On 27 March 2009 the railway's website reported that Network Rail had undertaken to re-install missing points and crossings at Bishop Auckland to reconnect the Weardale Line with the national rail network. It was stated that this would be done before 31 July 2009. Network Rail completed the connection in early September 2009. On 29 September 2009, the development of the Eastgate Renewable Energy Village received unanimous outline approval by the County Durham strategic planning committee, thus providing a potential boost to the line's future prospects. By 2013 this project appeared stalled.
In December 2009, it was announced that UK Coal was interested in using the line to transport coal from an opencast (open pit) coal mine in the line's catchment area and that local quarry owners had been approached about the possibility of shipping aggregates along the line. This is intended to ensure the future of the line as a viable business.
On 25 January 2010, Her Majesty's Railway Inspectorate travelled on the Weardale line checking bridges, fences and crossings along the 18-mile stretch between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland. Only a few minor works were needed to get the line ready for passenger use, and these were completed in time for a London King's Cross to Stanhope charter train to run. In February 2010, this became the first mainline passenger service to travel the line since the 1980s. It was followed on 27 February by a railtour from Crewe to Stanhope, operated by Spitfire Railtours.
Regular passenger services to Bishop Auckland started on 23 May 2010, but for the 2013 season a scheduled service was not offered, the railway instead offering themed operations, such as Dine and Ride and the Polar Express. During 2014, the Railway Trust operated passenger trains on selected weekdays and weekends for mostly tourist traffic. This was just running between Wolsingham and Stanhope Stations.
After received planning permission to load opencast coal, mined in the Crook area. The first loaded coal train left Wolsingham on 16 June 2011 bound for steel works in Scunthorpe. It was hoped that this would become a five-train-a-week operation. These operated until 2 October 2013.
Stations of the Weardale Railway
- Westgate-In-Weardale Station (Planned)
- Eastgate-In-Weardale Station (Planned)
- Stanhope Station (Current Terminus)
- Frosterley Station
- Wolsingham Station
- Harperley Station (Currently Disused)
- Witton-le-Wear (Re-open, Easter 2016)
- Wear Valley Junction (Currently Disused)
- Etherley (Currently Disused, the railway plans to re-open it as Witton Park)
- Bishop Auckland West Station
- BR Class 31 no. 31144 (spares)
- BR Class 31 no. 31452 (under repairs)
- BR Class 31 no. 31454 (Left for overhaul at Washwood Heath, December 2013)
- BR Class 31 no. 31468 (stored)
- BR Class 31 no. 31602 (stored)
Diesel Multiple Units
- BR Class 122 no. E55012 (operational)
- BR Class 141 units 141103 (operational) and 141110 (not operational).
- Body 1988, p. 43
- Butt 1995, p. 35
- "Bishop Auckland". Disused Stations. 20 March 2013.
- Subterranea Britannica – Bishop Auckland
- Leaflet in Commons.
- Catalogue details of leaflet.
- Quick, M.E. (2009). Railway Passenger Stations in Great Britain. p. 363.
- Disused Stations: Stanhope Station
- Disused Stations: Etherley Station
- "Rescue plan saves steam railway". BBC News Online. London. 27 January 2006.
- Mckay, Neil (17 August 2006). "Quiet victory as railway reopens". The Journal. Newcastle. Archived from the original on 21 March 2012.
- Iowa Pacific Holdings.
- Mckay, Neil (6 September 2008). "Pacific railroad takes a major share in Weardale". The Journal. Newcastle.
- "Railway on track for extension after high speed line clearing". The Northern Echo. Darlington. 10 November 2008.
- Mckay, Neil (8 October 2008). "Rail line set to carry freight". The Journal. Newcastle.
- "Expansion plan for steam railway". BBC News Online. 8 October 2008.
- WRC website : October 2008
- Eastgate eco-village plan for former Lafarge site stalls BBC News 13 August 2012.
- Latest News, Weardale Railway.
- Mckay, Neil (14 December 2009). "Weardale Railway revival could be fuelled by coal". The Journal. Newcastle. Archived from the original on 7 March 2012.
- Weardale Railway News 2010
- Williams, Alan (July 2010). "Regular passenger services return to Weardale". Modern Railways. London. p. 9.
- Statement by Ed Ellis 15 March 2013.
- Fay, Chris (6 August 2010). "Coal Depot Approved". The Northern Echo. Darlington.
- "News update: 10 October 2013:". Weardale Railway. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
- Industrial Railway Society (2009). Industrial Locomotives (15EL). Industrial Railway Society. ISBN 978-1-901556-53-7.
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