The first steam train journey for almost 50 years on an historic Northumberland railway line is set to take place in the autumn after a regional employer donated local coal to fuel the locomotive.
The volunteer-led Aln Valley Railway Trust has been focused on the restoration of the former Alnmouth to Alnwick railway line for almost two decades, with a view to reopening it first as a tourist attraction with additional commuter services for people living in the area”.
Over the last three years, the group has built the Alnwick Lionheart station on Lloyd’s Field, alongside the Lionheart Business Park, after being granted the lease for the land in 2011 by the Duke of Northumberland, who is the Trust’s president.
A four-month project to overhaul and refurbish the boiler of the Trust’s 0-6-0 steam locomotive ‘Richboro’ is now nearing completion, and If essential boiler repairs run to schedule, the Trust members are hoping to take the train on its first run on the station track as early as the end of October.
To provide the fuel required to undertake the testing work, Durham-headquartered Banks Mining is donating coal from the Shotton surface mine near Cramlington that it operates, and it has also reached an agreement with the Trust to provide further coal supplies in the future.
The initial trial runs on the line will be undertaken by the locomotive alone, but presuming all goes well, the Trust will be looking to use it as a tourist attraction, with the added bonus of providing a commuter service between Alnwick and the East Coast Main Line at Alnmouth in the future.
“Santa Special” trains are also scheduled to run around Christmas.
The Alnwick to Alnmouth line was originally closed in 1968, ostensibly for commercial reasons, but also due to the construction of the A1 Alnwick bypass, the route of which cut across it.
A workshop and engine shed have already been built alongside the station buildings at Alnwick Lionheart station, and work is already ongoing to add a carriage shed that will house the rolling stock in which visitors will ride.
Chris Freeman, founder member and a director of the Aln Valley Railway Trust, says: “This project aims to develop the railway corridor as a sustainable transport link that acts as a recreational and educational resource for both the local community and visitors to the area, and after so many years of work, it’s very exciting to be reaching this point.
“It’ll mean everything to everyone associated with the project to see our locomotive steaming out of the station after planning these journeys for so many years, and it’ll no doubt be a very emotional moment for many of us.
“Being able to run the locomotive on North East coal adds an extra dimension to the project, and the Banks Group’s generous support not only means we’ll be able to create the steam power needed to make our inaugural journeys, but we’ll also be able to use the funds we would have had to spend on coal from elsewhere on other parts of the project.
“We’ve got a brilliant and committed team of volunteers who carry out a huge range of tasks on both the rolling stock and infrastructure, but we’re always looking for more to get involved and hope that this landmark will further raise local awareness of our work and encourage new volunteers to come forward.”
Jeannie Kielty, development relations coordinator at The Banks Group, adds: “This is a wonderful community project that celebrates an important part of the region’s transport heritage, and it’ll be fantastic to see the locomotive steaming along the track using our locally-sourced, high quality coal.”
For further information on the work of the Aln Valley Railway Trust, or to enquire about being part of the volunteer team, please visit www.alnvalleyrailway.co.uk or call 01665 606168 or 01665 572028.