Durham City’s leading law firm, Swinburne Maddison LLP, has been instrumental in helping to secure the future of the Weardale Railway after it was placed into administration.

The heritage railway had been running across the North Pennines for more than 170 years, over a 19-mile track between Eastgate and Bishop Auckland, but had been experiencing difficulties as early as last summer, which is when Swinburne Maddison was appointed to explore various options for its sale.

By December 2019 it looked as if its annual event, The Train to Christmas Town, which had generated ticket sales of 40,000, might not even go ahead.

With the aim of allowing the company to continue trading over this busy period, Swinburne Maddison was able to structure and secure a finance package by working with administrators, FRP Advisory.

This innovative transaction allowed for interim funding from Co. Durham charity The Auckland Project, during the Christmas period and enabled the event to proceed, essential suppliers to be paid and local businesses to benefit from the vital trade which seasonal events provide.

This innovative transaction allowed for interim funding throughout the Christmas period and enabled the event to proceed, essential suppliers to be paid and local businesses to benefit from the vital trade which seasonal events provide.

By the start of the year however, when US-owned British American Railway Service,  which was the controlling member of the Weardale Railway Community Interest Company, confirmed its expectation that it would enter administration, Swinburne Maddison then proceeded to assist with the acquisition of the railway – its line, its rolling stock and ancillary assets – by a subsidiary company of The Auckland Project.

Corporate and commercial partner at Swinburne Maddison, Martyn Tennant, said:

“One of our key strengths, as a law firm, is our innovative way of looking at problems and coming up with commercial solutions within a legal framework, which achieve the best results for our client.

“In this case, we were delighted we had been able to devise a way of keeping the business running over the Christmas period, particularly when so many tickets had been sold and other local businesses were also depending on trade from the period.

“Ultimately, the future of the Weardale Railway is now secure, with this acquisition.  The Auckland Project is investing heavily to create positive change for those visiting, working in and living in the Bishop Auckland area and we are delighted to have played our part in preserving this vital local heritage asset.”

Following the rescue deal, with all the necessary assets secured, the intention is to explore the various ways in which the railway, now called Weardale Railway Ltd, could develop in the future through consultation with the community and its stakeholders.

Dave Maddan, Chief Executive Officer of The Auckland Project, said: “I have the highest regard for the team in Swinburne Maddison that supported The Auckland Project during this purchase and have been impressed by their ability to work through the inevitable problems encountered on the way”

Assisting Martyn Tennant as part of the corporate and commercial team at Swinburne Maddison were associate solicitor, Mike Ward and solicitor, Eleanor Fisher-Thompson. FRP Advisory were administrators, Clive Owen LLP, provided accountancy and tax advice with Haines Watt advising on VAT.

The Weardale Railway acquisition is one of several deals with a combined value totalling in excess of £100m that Swinburne Maddison has transacted in Q1 (January and February 2020).