On 30th July 1983 a train, hauled by a little blue diesel locomotive called Phoenix, left Alston station. It was the first passenger service to leave Alston since the closure of the standard gauge line on 1st May 1976.
Although the official opening of the narrow gauge railway wouldn’t occur until a year later, 1983 is a landmark in the history of the South Tynedale Railway Preservation Society because the dream of re-establishing a railway on the old Alston to Haltwhistle branch line, (albeit a much shorter one), had come to fruition.
The 30th July 2013 marked 30 years of narrow gauge passenger services from Alston and in celebration a 4-day ‘weekend’ of events was held and encouraged by the hot weather in early July, Pimm’s and Lemonade was served on-board the buffet car throughout the 4 day event.
Although the weather was not quite as glorious as it had been during the Wimbledon weekend, the Pimm’s was a particularly welcome refreshment for groups of walkers and especially weary parents!
Engine shed tours were also offered throughout all of the 4 days. Immaculately turned out in his guard’s uniform, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteer, Daniel, could be heard on the tannoy, announcing the tour departures from the station platform, before gathering up groups and leading them down the track to the sheds where our collection of steam and diesel engines were out on display.
At Alston station a special slideshow was created and put on display in the waiting room, showing visitors what the line and the station had looked like in those early years and highlighting just how far the railway has come. In 1983 the line barely extended beyond Gilderdale Halt while today it has reached Kirkhaugh, Lintley and is now on its way to Slaggyford.
In 1983, the station grounds were sparse and undeveloped. Now there is a picnic area and new buildings housing an office, mess room and discovery centre. A small white shed functioned as a signal box which has since been replaced by a full size signalbox where the signalman can sit in comfort and observe the train coming in from afar.
To mark the 30th anniversary, the guard on duty on 30th July was Tom Bell. He is the only remaining volunteer who had been present at the opening of the railway in 1983. He had been guard that day and has been every anniversary date since.