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Saturday, 6 August 2016

South Tynedale Light Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:          2' (610 mm)

Length:         3½ miles (5.6 km)

Opened:        1983


Station Rd, 

Tel.:       01434 382828 

Date of visit:  24 October 2015 


Key Facts

  • The railway is built on the trackbed of the original standard gauge Alston Branchline which ran for 13½ miles (21.7 km) from Haltwhistle to Alston.
  • The original railway was fully opened in 1852, after the construction of Lambley Viaduct.
  • The standard gauge railway closed in May 1976, despite protests and appeals from the local populace and the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society
  • It was reopened in 1983 as a 2' narrow gauge railway between Alston and Gilderdale with an extension opened to Lintley Halt in May 2012
  • There are plans to extend the line a further 1¼ miles to Slaggyford.
  • Ultimately, it is envisaged that the line will run the entire length of the original railway to Haltwhistle. Much of the trackbed is still intact and grants have been received to rebuild or renovate the bridges along the line and a strip of land beside the mainline station at Haltwhistle has been acquired.
  • The railway claims to be the highest narrow gauge railway in England
  • It currently posseses two Henschel locomotives, 0-4-0T Helen Kathryn and 0-4-0T Thomas Edmondson; a Hunslet 0-4-2T, Carlisle; a Thomas Green 0-6-2T, Barber, an Orenstein & Koppel 0-6-0T, 740; a Polish built 0-6-0, Naklo; and four diesel locos.
  • The line is fully signalled, with a signal box at Alston being resited from Ainderby, on the Redmire branch line
  • The South Tyne walking and cycle trail runs alongside the railway, forming a cut-off from the Pennine Way
  • There is a bookshop and cafe at Alston Station where tickets, gifts and souvenirs can be purchased
  • The railway is open from Spring to Autumn, with Santa Specials being run during December


My Impressions

The first thing which struck me about the town of Alston was how remote it was. No matter which direction from which it is approached, one has to cross several miles of moorland. The town itself is quite quaint, with its steeply sloping cobbled mainstreet, its traditional pubs and idiosyncratic shops.

 Speaking to some of the inhabitants, it seems as if Alston is a place which people often pass through on their way to somewhere else, but it does seem a shame that it is not a more popular destination for visitors - it deserves to be.

We stayed overnight in a guest house overlooking the station and so, after a hearty breakfast and some extremely welcoming hospitality, we made out way down to the station.

The station itself was very well laid-out and well established. The South Tynedale Railway has been operational for over thirty years, so I suppose it ought to be. The first train of the day was being marshalled into the platform by the recently restored Thomas Green 0-6-2T loco, Barber. The 'Gas' tender to which it was attached appeared to house the vacuum pump for the brake gear given the sounds which were emerging from it.

 I am not familiar with Thomas Green's locomotives but this one seemed particularly workmanlinke - its cut-down cab and chimney betraying its origins as a loco working in the confined spaces of the Harrogate Gas Works.

 We bought our tickets and climbed aboard the train, taking up our position on the balcony of the last coach, to enable me to get some photos and video of the track on the journey down the line and the loco in action on our return journey. Before long we pulled away from the station and started off down the line.

Because the line is constructed on the trackbed of the standard gauge line, there is sufficient room for a footpath to run alongside the track for its entire length. A few walkers were braving the weather.

After skirting the banks of the Tyne we were soon in open country .....

...... with views across the moors on both sides of the track.

A brief stop at Kirkhaugh where once more the river ran alongside the track, and then we were once more on our way.

 On reaching Lintley ........

..... our loco ran around its train towing its compressor wagon .......

....... before hooking up to our coach. We were soon off once more Up the line.

Shortly before arriving at Alston, we passed the loco sheds and permanent way department.

 On arriving at the station, Barber ran around the train and took on water ......

...... before hooking up again at the front of the train.

After a quick visit to the souvenir shop, we were able to watch the departure of the next train.

What a delightful railway in a wonderful setting. Although the weather was not at its best, it was clear that the line runs through some really attractive scenery. I would have liked to have taken the train in one direction and walked back - taking a few lineside shots as the trains passed by. Looks like I've talked myself into a return trip!


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