By Cliff Thomas

South Tynedale Railway £5.5million expansion project announced

Published: 28th March 2014

The South Tynedale Railway awarded £4.2million Heritage Lottery Fund grant to develop the 2ft gauge

The South Tynedale Railway (STR) says this massive award is the biggest-ever investment in the railway offers long-term environmental sustainability, employment opportunities, expansion of skills training and a strengthened visitor education programme. What does it entail?

New construction

A central feature of the package of enhancements covered by the award is building a mile and a half extension of the STR line from its present Lintley terminus to Slaggyford in Northumberland, where existing buildings will be repaired, a replica NER signalbox erected and level crossing gates reinstated. New fibre optic cables, essential for the railway's signalling requirements, could also bring fast broadband to the village.

Other infrastructure elements of the £5.5 million project include adding a second platform at Alston station, where an overall roof, incorporating solar electricity generation panels, will span the platforms and tracks. Other buildings (with the exception of the Grade 2 Listed station house) will also receive solar panels as part of an electricity generation scheme designed to cut fuel bills while providing power for newly super-insulated workshops. There will also be rain water collection arrangements to provide water for use by STR steam locomotives.

Permanent repairs will also be made to a 160-year old retaining wall above the Nent and Tyne rivers adjacent to the railway. The wall was temporarily repaired following storm damage a year ago.

Motive power enhancements

The HLF cash will assist in adding motive power. Two standard gauge Clayton battery-electric locos, donated (with batteries and chargers) to the STR by Transport for London last year, will be rebuilt to 2ft gauge. They will be used during extension construction and be powerful enough to occasionally pull passenger coaches. The loco batteries will be charged from the new solar power supply system at Alston.

In addition, Hunslet 0-4-2T 1859/1937 (former UVE No. 1 - Umtwaluni Valley Sugar Estate in Natal, South Africa) will be sent to a contractor for overhaul. The loco will be converted to burn processed waste wood briquettes with the addition of a tender as part of this work. The resulting 0-4-2TT will also be given a new more protective cab. This loco has been stored since arriving at the STR, although it was allocated No. 16 in the stock list and provisionally named Carlisle.

Jobs and education

The project includes recruiting a management team and the railway has already advertised four full-time staff posts: railway manager, development project leader, deputy project leader and accounts technician/administrator. A new café at Alston will enable expansion of the catering business aimed at offering year round local employment.

There will be an enlarged education programme based at an expanded heritage centre at Alston station presenting opportunities for children and adults to learn about local industrial heritage and its effects on the Pennine landscape. The education programme also aims to expand skills training in the charity's volunteer and paid workforce.

They said:

"Some time ago we realised that, if we are to continue to build on the success of thirty years of development, we had to do new and different things,” commented STR deputy chairman, Brian Craven. “We have to attract new visitors and more of them to the lovely South Tyne Valley and our Railway.

When we reviewed how we work we recognised that we were spending far too much on resources like power, fuel and other essential utilities and we must do something about that. Alston is a remote town and the STR is important to its economy. We are keen to work with others to do still more to extend quality employment opportunities to local folk. This project will fulfil all of these aims and more".

"The South Tynedale Railway is an important reminder of our transport heritage and is a fantastic example of the bygone and glorious age of steam, confirmed Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund North-East. “We were really impressed with the dedication and passion that the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society demonstrated towards this conservation project and also its commitment towards nurturing volunteers, providing educational sessions to local schools and passing on valuable knowledge and skills.”

"This is a huge opportunity to build the economy and wellbeing of the South Tyne Valley,” commented Richard Graham, STR chairman and an Alston resident. “We are really pleased that the Heritage Lottery Fund has shown such faith in our small but flourishing organisation and I am looking forward to leading our enthusiastic team as we get to work on the project."

Visiting locos for forthcoming STR events

Following announcement of the HLF grant towards its major development project, the STR has been arranging visiting locomotives for a series of events this year.

The Statfold Barn Railway’s Bagnall 4-4-0T Isibutu was set to arrive to work STR trains on its April 5 opening of the new season and remain for Easter operations, when it should be joined by Alston residents Henschel 0-4-0T Thomas Edmondson (16047/1918) and Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0DM Old Rusty.

A WW1 Commemoration event over July 25-27 will feature visits by The Greensand Railway Museum Trust’s Baldwin 4-6-0T WDLR No. 778, NRM-owned 40hp petrol ‘protected’ Simplex WDLR No. 3098 (both from the Leighton Buzzard Railway) and Kerr Stuart ‘Joffre’ 0-6-0WTT No. 2045 Joffre from the West Lancashire Light Railway. Alston-based Henschel 0-4-0T Thomas Edmondson (16047/1918) should also be in action.

First steaming for over 60 years

Restoration of Thomas Green & Company 0-6-2ST Barber, which has not been in steam since 1949, is in its latter stages at Alan Keef Ltd’s Ross-on-Wye works. Barber is to visit the site of Thomas Green and Company’s Smithfield Foundry works in North Street, Leeds where it was built (the foundry is closed but the building remains) en route to appearing at the July 8-10 Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate. Barber will then be delivered to Alston to undertake a programme of running in trials, tests and crew training. Although it will be at the STR during the WW1 Commemoration gala, it is not expected to be in steam.

Barber is to be launched into public service at an August 22-25 ‘Barber Return to Steam’ gala, when it will be joined by the Statfold Barn Railway’s Peckett 0-6-0ST Harrogate.

An ‘Indian Summer Hill Railways’ event has been arranged for September 26-28, which will centre on a visit by Adrian Shooter’s Darjeeling Himalayan Railway B-Class 0-4-0ST No. 19, currently undergoing overhaul at Tyseley.

The South Tynedale Railway is built on the trackbed of the former standard gauge Haltwhistle to Alston line. The first section of narrow gauge track was opened by volunteers of the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society in 1983. The line has been extended in stages over following years. The ultimate ambition remains of extending all the way back to Haltwhistle, with its national network connection.

This project probably invests more than British Rail ever did over its entire ownership!

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