Some Early Lines Alston Branch & the South Tynedale Railway

Some Early Lines

Alston Branch & the South Tynedale Railway

Alston Branch

This is the setting for LNER J39 0-6-0 No.64858, a Hull Dairycoates engine, whose driver picks his way across the track after bringing in a train from Haltwhistle in March 1954.  In Alston the old ways are gone, but a 2ft gauge venture, the South Tynedale Railway, is extending a passenger lie along the trackbed. – Photo: O.H.Prosser

Alston, 1000 feet up in the Cumbrian Pennines, is England’s highest market town.  It can also be a hostile place when in the grip of winter.  The railway came to Alston as a steeply graded single line branch from Haltwhistle on the NER Newcastle-Carlisle line and it followed the narrowing valley of the South Tyne river.  The LNER considered closure to passengers in 1929 but the roads to Haltwhistle were too poor for replacement buses.  Alston, which is just in Cumbria, had cause to be thankful for the railway when winter snow cut the town off from the outside world.  NE J21s and G5s did good work on the branch.  Modern locos too, like BR Class 3MT 2-6-0 No.77011 which worked passenger turns after transfer to Alston in 1955.  Alston had that appealing branch line feature, the one road engine shed, and its all-over station roof gave some protection against the elements.

Lambley, a picturesque wayside station on the Alston branch, sited where a stone viaduct took the railway over the South Tyne – Photo: Lens of Sutton

The South Tynedale Railway

Kirkhaugh Station

Preparing the Polish-built engine for the return to Alston. © Copyright Andy Stephenson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 The South Tynedale Railway is a heritage railway in England and is England’s highest narrow gauge railway. The route runs from Alston in Cumbria to Lintley in Northumberland via the South Tyne Viaduct, the Gilderdale Viaduct and the Whitley Viaduct. The railway is operated by a charity, The South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society, which was registered in 1983.

Passenger trains operate on the railway between April (or from Easter weekend if in March) through to October each year and currently (2011) attract 40,000 people to the district every year.  Special trains operate including Santa Special trains on certain days in December each year. Although no Santa trains ran in 2011 as volunteer efforts were put into completing the extension to Lintley in time for the 2012 season, they may run again in 2012. At Alston station there is a cafe and gift shop both operated by the railway company. Free car and coach parking is available adjacent to the station which is located about a quarter mile north of the town on the Hexham road.

The present line is more than three and a quarter miles in length and there are plans to extend the line by a further mile and a quarter miles to Slaggyford. The line is a 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge and is built on the southern end of the track bed of the disused standard gauge Haltwhistle to Alston Line. This connected with the Newcastle and Carlisle Railway at Haltwhistle. The standard gauge line was closed on 1 May 1976 and the track bed is mostly intact.

South Tynedale Railway nr Alston

Looking NE from the Pennine Way near Harbut Lodge. One of the filter beds of the Alston sewage works is just visible above the tree in the foreground.  © Copyright Dave Dunford and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


Confirmation was received in November 2009 that a grant of £100,000 had been awarded by the Groundwork UK Community Spaces programme which will be used to fund the restoration of three historic railway bridges on the former Haltwhistle to Alston line. Northumberland County Council’s west area committee also granted consent for a completely new station at Lintley and the new extension to Lintley opened to traffic on April 1, 2012.  Rails extend across Lintley viaduct for a distance of about 200 metres from the new station to form a headhunt for works trains. A further one and a quarter mile extension to Slaggyford has all consents necessary and funding is being sought with hopes of opening in 2014 or 2015. The extended line from Kirkhaugh to Lintley Halt was officially opened in Saturday 12th May 2012 by Lord Inglewood, a long-time friend of the railway society. On the same day Cumbria County Council handed over documents confirming a Community Asset Transfer of the Society’s leased land in Cumbria. Work to gain a similar status in Northumberland is ongoing with Northumberland County Council.


Narrow gauge locomotive at the level crossing at Alston Station on the South Tynedale railway.  © Copyright Peter McDermott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 2012 Season The timetable shows four return trips from Alston to Lintley – outward at 10.45, 12.15, 14.15 and 15.45. Return trains leave Lintley 45 minutes later.

Passenger rolling stock Trains are made up daily depending on predicted passenger numbers. There are four all-steel open end gallery coaches built by a contractor in Alston, two wooden bodied coaches and two brake vans constructed in the railway workshops. Recent additions (2011) are an all-steel buffet coach originally built by Gloucester Carriage and Wagon for Sierra Leone Railways and re-gauged from 750mm to 610mm for use at Alston and a re-gauged former Romanian steel coach now converted to be fully accessible for disabled passengers.

South Tynedale Railway

The South Tynedale Railway near Wanwoodhill.  © Copyright Peter McDermott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.


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