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Tanfield Railway

Tanfield Railway
An overview of the railway from Furnace Sidings
Locale North East England
Commercial operations
Name Tanfield Railway
Original gauge Wooden Waggonway / Metal 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preserved operations
Stations 4
Length 3 miles (4.8 km)
Preserved gauge 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm)
Preservation history

The Tanfield Railway is a standard gauge heritage railway in Gateshead and County Durham, England. Running on part of a former colliery wooden wagonway, later a steam railway, it operates preserved industrial diesel and steam tank locomotives. The railway operates a passenger service on Sundays all year round, as well as demonstration freight trains. The line runs 3 miles (4.8 km) between a southern terminus at East Tanfield, Durham, to a northern terminus at Sunniside, Gateshead, with the main station, Andrews House situated near to the Marley Hill engine shed. A halt also serves the historic site of the Causey Arch. The railway claims to be the oldest working railway in the world.


  • Colliery Railway 1
  • Preservation 2
  • Causey Arch 3
  • Locations 4
  • Steam locomotives 5
    • Operational steam locomotives 5.1
    • Steam locomotives undergoing repairs 5.2
    • Steam locomotives Under Overhaul/Restoration 5.3
  • Diesel and electric locomotives 6
  • Coaching Stock 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10

Colliery Railway

The Tanfield Railway was originally built to transport coal from the collieries of County Durham, to the staithes on the River Tyne, for onward transport in colliers (bulk coal carrying ships).[1] The oldest part of the original Tanfield Railway, located to the north east of the present heritage line, in the Lobley Hill area, dated from 1647, and was in continuous use until final closure in 1964.[1]

The route and structures of the oldest section of the now preserved part of the line, between Sunniside and Causey, dates from 1725, and is thus claimed to be the World's oldest working railway.[1][2] The Middleton Railway claims to be the oldest working railway, on the basis that it was the first railway granted powers under the first railway Act of Parliament in 1758.[2] The Causey to East Tanfield section was built in 1839.[1]

The Marley Hill engine shed was built in 1854, and in use until 1970.[1] The shed first housed a winding engine before the arrival of locomotives.[3] The shed was originally on the Bowes Railway, with locos used on the Tanfield branch stabled at the nearby Bowes Bridge MPD (a sub-shed of Gateshead) whose coaling stage and turntable pit are still visible adjacent to the track between Andrews House and Sunniside. The headshunt by the signal box is the point where the Bowes Railway crossed the Tanfield branch. When the line was re-opened a curve was installed to allow trains access to the shed. It is thought to be the oldest engine shed in the world still used for its original function.[4] Although the line to the shed closed in 1962, it remained in use servicing other colliery railway's locomotives in the area.[4]

Originally a wooden railed horse drawn wagonway, conversion to a conventional steel railed railway began in 1837, and by 1840 was complete as far as Tanfield Moor Colliery.[3] In 1881 the railway was converted to steam locomotive operation, becoming part of the North Eastern Railway.[3] Although still primarily a freight railway, it did carry some passengers.[3] The East Tanfield Colliery closed in 1964, and the railway, by this time owned by the National Coal Board, was closed and the track lifted.[3]


Andrews House Station
Freight train at East Tanfield

The early years of the railway as a preservation project concentrated on Marley Hill, preparing locos for steaming, working on the shed structure and acquiring basic needs such as water and electricity. Locomotives No.21 and No.5 (Malleable) were steamed in public in 1973. The first passenger train ran for a week August 1975, using locomotives No.21, No.32 and Sir Cecil A Cochrane, and a small carriage acquired from British Steel on Teesside.[3]

The preserved line was first built from Marley Hill to the current northern terminus, Sunniside Station, with passenger trains beginning on 2 July 1981,[3] and an official opening ceremony on 14 July 1982. Andrews House station just south of Marley Hill sheds was completed between 1987 and 1989[3] and was equipped with platforms, a water tower, a station building and a footbridge. The first train south to Causey was on 27 July 1991, with the official opening ceremony being held on 15 August 1991. The first train further south to the current end of the line at East Tanfield occurred on 18 October 1992.[3] East Tanfield Station itself was opened in 1997. The Causey to Tanfield section is through a wood lined gorge.[4]

Part of the reason the line was preserved was the fact Marley Hill shed remained open until 1970.[4] The vintage machinery in the workshop is still capable of full locomotive overhauls.[4] The oldest locomotive on the railway was built in Gateshead in 1873, and all of the railway's carriage stock dates from the 19th Century.[4]

Causey Arch

The current preserved line passes near to Causey Arch, the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world.[4] It was built to carry a new branch from the route of the now preserved line, to a site known as Dawson's Drift.[3] Built between 1725 and 1727, at 150 ft long (46 m) and 80 ft high (24 m), it was the largest single-span bridge in Britain, and remained so for 30 years.[3][4]


Sunniside station
  • Sunniside Station
  • Marley Hill Signal Box
  • Marley Hill Yard
  • Andrews House Station
  • Causey Arch Station
  • East Tanfield Station

Steam locomotives

As of 2013 the Railway has become the home to a large collection of industrial steam engines, with 28 in all, though only three are operational. One is undergoing repairs and three more are under overhaul for future operation, with the other 21 in sheds on the Marley Hill site.

Operational steam locomotives

Number & Name Description Status Livery Owner(s) Date Photograph
Hawthorn Leslie and Company 0-4-0ST, No.2. Built by Hawthorn Leslie and Company in 1911. Re-entered service after an overhaul in 2013. Operational A few different shades of green with lining 1911
0-4-0ST Sir Cecil A Cochrane Sir Cecil A Cochrane was built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns in 1948 and worked a few miles from its current home. It is currently in regular use on passenger services and may occasionally be seen hauling a shortened coal train. Boiler Certificate is due to expire in 2018 (5-year inspection due to welded boiler due 2013) Operational RSH works livery (lined green) 1948
0-6-0T Twizell Twizell was built by Robert Stephenson and Company in 1891. Operational Black, Lined in Red 1891

Steam locomotives undergoing repairs

Number & Name Description Status Livery Owner(s) Date Photograph

Steam locomotives Under Overhaul/Restoration

Number & Name Description Status Livery Owner(s) Date Photograph
Andrew Barclay 0-6-0ST No. 1015 "Horden" This engine was built by Andrew Barclay. Has started heavy overhaul since August 2012, expected completion of overhaul 2 – 3 years Undergoing Restoration N/A 1904
Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0ST Renishaw Ironworks No.6 Renishaw Ironworks No.6 was built by Hudswell Clarke in Leeds in 1919. It can be seen in Marley Hill Engine shed undergoing a 10-year overhaul. Undergoing Overhaul Green with lining 1919
Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0T No. 38 Built by Hudswell Clarke in 1949. Undergoing restoration in Marley Hill yard Undergoing Restoration N/A 1949
Stored steam locomotives
Number & Name Description Status Livery Owner(s) Date Photograph
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-6-0ST NCB No. 49 Built by RSH in 1943. Overhauled planned to start after Renishaw. Stored Green with white and black lining 1943
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns No.38 0-6-0ST 38 was built by Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns in 1954, it is currently stored, in a partially dismantled state, and is in line to receive a cosmetic overhaul. It was one of a number of Identical locomotives which went to collieries in Northumberland, and its generator and electric lights are a legacy of its duties on the Ashington system, where they were necessary for night-time shunting in the yards at Ellington and Lynemouth. Stored Black, lined in red 1954
Hawthorn Leslie 0-6-0ST Stagshaw Stagshaw was built by Hawthorn Leslie as an example of a Cristiani compressed steam system locomotive, however when this was unsuccessful, Stagshaw was converted to a conventional steam locomotive and is currently stored at Tanfield Railway Stored Black 1923
Borrows of St Helens No.3 0-4-0WT This engine is stored on site at Marley Hill Stored 1898
Hawthorn Leslie "Cyclops" 0-4-0ST This engine is now stored at the Marley Hill Site Stored 1907
Hudswell Clarke 0-4-0ST, Irwell This engine is stored in large pieces around the Marley Hill site and is a possible candidate for overhaul Stored Green with Lining 1937
Black, Hawthorn & Co 0-4-0ST, Wellington The oldest locomotive on the railway. This engine is stored minus fittings and saddle tank on the Marley Hill site Stored Green with Lining 1873
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-4-0ST, No.21 This engine is stored undercover and a possible candidate for overhaul. Formerly owned by the CEGB for shunting coal at the Stella power stations Stored Green with red and black lining 1954
Sentinel 0-4-0T No.4 This engine is stored outside on the Marley Hill site and is a possible candidate for overhaul. It is a sentinel shunter and therefore resembles a diesel shunter, yet is a steam engine Stored Red 1953
W.G. Bagnall 0-6-0ST, Gamma This engine is stored undercover Stored Originally War Department Black, later NCB Blue with Wasp Striped buffer beams. 1945
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Hendon 0-4-0CT One of the four surviving crane tanks from Doxford's Shipyard in Sunderland. This engine is currently stored Stored Dark Blue 1940
Andrew Barclay No.17 0-6-0T This engine is currently stored Stored 1913
Hawthorn Leslie No.13 0-4-0ST CEGB loco from Dunston Power Station. This engine is currently stored Stored 1928
Andrew Barclay "32" 0-4-0ST This engine is currently being overhauled off site overhaul 1904
Andrew Barclay No.6 0-4-2ST This engine is currently stored Stored 1910
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns No.62 0-6-0ST This engine is currently stored Stored
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns No.44 0-6-0ST A former stable-mate of No. 49 at Backworth Colliery. This Engine was built to a similar design as Nos. 16 and 38, but slightly smaller. It is currently stored in Marley Hill yard minus its saddletank and the top half of its cab Stored Blue 1953
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns No.47 0-6-0ST This engine is currently stored Stored
Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns No.16 0-6-0ST Another loco from the Backworth Colliery system. Built to the same design as No. 38, although minus the generator and electric lights. This engine is currently stored Stored Dark Blue
Hawthorn Leslie No.3 0-6-0ST This engine is currently stored Stored
Hawthorn Leslie Huncoat No.3 0-6-0F This fireless locomotive is currently stored Stored

Diesel and electric locomotives

Armstrong Whitworth 0-4-0DE No.2 (D22/1933), regular pilot locomotive at Marley Hill.

Information from the Industrial Railway Society:[5]

  • AEG Bo-BoWE no. 1565/1913
  • Armstrong Whitworth 0-4-0DE no. D22/1933
  • Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-6-0DM no. 7697/1953
  • Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-4-0DM no. 6980/1940
  • Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-6-0DM no. 7746/1954
  • Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns 0-4-0DM no. 7901/1958
  • Robert Stephenson and Hawthorns Bo-BoWE no. 70··78/1944
  • Andrew Barclay 0-6-0 615/1977 on hire to the Aln Valley Railway
  • English Electric and Baguley 3565/1960
  • DE = diesel-electric
  • DH = diesel-hydraulic
  • DM = diesel-mechanical
  • WE = overhead wire electric

Coaching Stock

All of the railways coaches are wooden bodied, Victorian coaches.

  • TR No.1 Open Balcony Coach ex GWR Van
  • TR No.2 Open Balcony Coach ex GWR van
  • TR No.3 Open Coach with Guards Van eX LNER Ballast brake van
  • TR No.4 Open Coach with Guards Van ex LNER Ballast brake van
  • TR No.5 Compartment Coach. Originally a GNR Coach
  • TR No.6 Open Buffet Coach. Originally a GNR Compartment Coach
  • TR No.7 Open Poppleton Coach with Guards Van. Originally an NER Director's Saloon
  • TR No.8 Compartment Coach with Guards Van. Originally an MS&L Brake Van
  • NER No.256 Compartment Coach
  • NER No.818 Compartment Coach

The Railway also has other unrestored coaching stock.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Tanfield Railway". Wear > Places > Places features > Tanfield Railway.  
  2. ^ a b "Alternative Attractions in NE England". Heritage Railway Association. 4 August 2000. Retrieved 4 July 2009. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k John Grant, Nathan Darroch (13 December 2008). "The Tanfield Railway". Railways of Britain. Retrieved 4 July 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Best of Britain's Steam Railways. AA Publishing. 2006.  
  5. ^ Industrial Locomotives Handbook 15EL, Industrial Railway Society, 2009, ISBN 978-1-901556-53-7

Further reading

  • The Tanfield Railway (Causey Extension) Light Railway Order 1991
  • History of the Tanfield Wagonway Sunniside Local History Society

External links

  • Official site
  • Tanfield Railway photo gallery BBC Wear
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