The Origin of the funding
After a reduction in visitors due to some serious weather issues and a general decline in visitors to the AONB when the depression began to bite, by 2012 the South Tynedale Railway was in serious trouble. In fact, unsustainable losses had been made for the previous five years.
With all the associated costs of running the railway, the visitor numbers did not produce enough income to run a viable operation.
This led to a review of the entire operation and five areas of deficiency emerged:
The review gave serious cause for concern and it led to a bold bid to gain Heritage Lottery Funding to support the planned developments required to re energise the railway.
The list was a long one, and required some other grant funding to help it along but after an initial refusal, the £4.25 million grant was finalised as part of a £5.6 million development project.
With some degree of financial security, the Railway could now look into the future with some confidence, and the developments were ready to be funded.
With rapidly rising costs from the first ones received to the delivery ones making some parts of the project much more difficult than it should be, further grants were sought. The number of grants given need to be fully detailed to be appreciated and is not the subject of this information sheet. However, it has to be said even in this context, that nothing like what we are now delivering in our Engineering Heritage Skills workshops could have been realised without an enormously generous grant from the Cumbria Chamber of Commerce and their Cumbria Growth Fund.
The Extension of the Line
The line currently runs three and a half miles with stations at Kirkhaugh and Lintley Halt.
The ability to move beyond turning the loco around and taking the train straight back to Alston is a first in the Society’s history and will mean reopening the second of the stations that closed on the 3rd May 1976. The extension to Slaggyford involves some bridge work, the addition of around one and half miles of track, the reinstallation of the level crossing and construction of a new replica signal box.
The old Slaggyford Station building will be sympathetically restored and a toilet block added to the location. We are relocating our ex Sierra Leone, steel bodied buffet coach to the back of the Slaggyford platform where it will serve a selection of foods produced here at Alston by our catering team.
The addition of a car park adjacent to the station, will enable coaches and private cars to have free parking while they enjoy their day travelling to Alston to see the trains and the Alston Discovery Centre along with the accessible Heritage Skills Engineering Workshop and the full catering facilities of the new café.
The Engineering Heritage Skills Workshop
The current engineering workshop is a dingy cold place and there isn’t much to love about it, so we are converting the current Shed 1, which until recently housed our coaches, to our new Heritage Skills workshops. The workshops are located right next to the station so that people can walk in and use the viewing gallery to watch progress on our loco’s. The inclusion of a stair case and a lift makes the viewing gallery accessible to all.
There will be an engineering office on the mezzanine as well a staff mess room. The inclusion of a new biomass heating system, lagging of the building, new windows and upgrade to all mains services will enhance the current building. The development of the Heritage Engineering Scheme for apprentices will be based in these workshops.
The Train Shed Roof
The original Alston train shed roof was supported by the station building and covered the platform and two tracks. Its west side was joined to the original 1952 Engineering Shed. Wooden end screens extending to the platform completed the structure.
The development in this area goes one step further as the engineering building is no longer standing so platform 2 will be built to help support the new roof on the west side. Station House is a grade 2 listed building so the roof cannot be attached to that on the east side. The final result will be reminiscent of the original but is more intended to keep our visitors dry over both the original platform and the new one, rather than an attempt to replicate what was.
Buffer Stop Café
The current 5-star hygiene rated platform café was in council ownership until recent years and despite its tiny stature produces fresh food made on the premises using local ingredients whenever possible. The home baking element by the catering team is a favourite of many but we are restricted by the size of the food prep area. Despite that we offer a range of (weather dependant) soup, toasties, burgers, hot and cold rolls and home-made cakes to help those pleasant days along to either eat in or take away. However, we need more seating, and we want to offer a range of hot meals beyond the current limitations. To this end we are building the new station café. The café will incorporate the current disused wall on the back of the platform and will be a bright and warm building with beams and trusses reflecting local building themes. We will be able to offer both locals and visitors alike a stronger menu with hot meal specials all through the day.
The new Discovery Centre was delivered in time for the 2016 season and is a contemporary presentation on the rise, fall and rise again of the line. The display covers information and artefacts and also incorporates the history of the minerals in this area. This interesting and adaptable space is also for hire for a number of different uses.
Greening of the Railway
The delivery of the Discovery Centre which charts the history of the railway also opens up the business from a train ride to a ‘destination’. Along with the other facilities up and down the line between the Alston and Slaggyford stations, our visitors will have the options of several things to see and do while with us. This destination will also work with the environmental changes that we are bringing here.
The return in October of our restored Hunslet locomotive ‘The Green Dragon’ will showcase a reduced reliance on fossil fuels. This ‘first in the UK’ will run on wood waste briquettes instead of the traditional coal. The name is therefore very appropriate. Another interesting feature of this loco is the tender which is being converted from an ex MoD chassis.
The inclusion of solar PV Panels in some areas of the station buildings will generate electricity to sell back to the grid and give us the opportunity to use what we produce. Although a smaller scheme than the one previously planned due to the changes in tariffs, this step to minimise our environmental footprint is an important part of our corporate responsibility program.
The ex-Transport for London Battery Electrics are being re-gauged to our 2 foot rails. These two big locomotives ‘Newcastle’ and ‘Carlisle’ will run on this railway as soon as they are back with us and will utilise the electricity we sell to the grid. They run on banks of huge batteries and they are almost silent as they glide along. We have a maximum speed limit on these lines which won’t come close to the top speed of these loco’s. These form an important part of our environmental plans while being the forerunners of our commuter fleet.
The addition of Quarry Pond (which will be accessed just down from the main station in Alston) is planned to become a picnic area and nature trail. We have three other picnic areas around the station at Alston (and more along the line) but the Quarry Pond site will be especially beautiful as we often see deer and red squirrels in this area. We will encourage quiet there to entice the wildlife out of hiding, but as they are already used to hearing the hiss of steam and the sound of whistles, they shouldn’t be too perturbed by visitors eating their lunch.
In keeping with environmental matters, the riverside wall just on the left past the signal box picnic area collapsed with heavy flooding. The huge amount of stone we needed to place in the river and tie together to support the South Tyne Trail footpath was a challenge both in monetary terms (6 figures) and in the time frame to complete the works. We worked very closely with the environments agency to ensure the fish and river dependent flora and fauna were not unduly disturbed by the heavy works.
There are other facets to this huge project which haven’t been mentioned here, not least the monetary grants that have made this possible, but we hope you have enjoyed briefly hearing what our plans look like.
40 Years ago this future for part of the Alston branch line which closed couldn’t have been dreamed of, but the reality is that what we have shown you here will be delivered next Easter when we open to Slaggyford.