The Weardale Railway Trust
The Weardale Railway trust (WRT) is a charitable organisation with the objective of supporting the owners of the Weardale Railway. The primary objective is to support the company to purchase or by any other method acquire the railway land, track and infrastructure currently existing between signal S36 at Cockton Hill Bridge, Bishop Auckland and Eastgate, proposed extensions thereof and the operation of trains.
As of September 2020 the membership stood at 418 comprising full and joint members complimentary, concessionary, life, joint life and junior members.
The Trust has approximately 50 active members that support the objectives of the Trust. Volunteer roles include infrastructure, traction and rolling stock maintenance and railway operations. Traditionally, track clearing and train operation have been the major volunteering activities. There is a regular Sunday Gang for track clearance with the trust providing duty managers, signallers, drivers, guards, crossing keepers, ticket inspectors and cleaners for operations. Additionally, volunteers man the Trust shop at Stanhope station and keep all the stations on the line tidy.
Heritage diesel train services operate typically between Easter and Halloween with trains operating twice or three times per week. The Trust volunteers also supported the company in the operation of special Saturday evening and Sunday Afternoon Tea trains.
Operations in 2020 have been abandoned because of the COVID 19 epidemic but also due to a change of ownership of the railway, The Auckland Project acquiring the railway in March 2020. Plans are currently being worked on for the reintroduction of services in 2021.
The Weardale Railway
Built by the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1847, from Wear Valley Junction (on the Bishop Auckland to Crook line) to Frosterley, the Weardale Railway was built to transport limestone from the quarries at Bishopley to the iron smelting industries of Tees-side. The line was extended, to Stanhope, by the North Eastern Railway in 1862 and to Wearhead in 1895. Traffic on the line was principally for the transport of the mineral reserves extracted from the upper dale. In the early 20th century significant quantities of lead, iron, coal and fluorspar were transported but these declined after the 1st World War due to competition from overseas. Passenger services were always secondary and were withdrawn over the whole branch in June 1953 and the line was lifted beyond Eastgate. Freight services continued through into the 1960’s but dwindled until the only traffic was to transport cement from the Blue Circle factory at Eastgate. In 1993 Blue Circle decided to transfer cement haulage to road signalling the death of the line.
The Weardale Railway preservation project started in 1993 with the intention that a private company should take ownership of the line for the operation of heritage rail services in the dale. Several companies have unsuccessfully attempted to establish a viable business model for the line, in each case, supported by the volunteers of the Weardale Railway Trust.
In March 2020 the line passed into the ownership of The Auckland Project (TAP) and plans are currently being developed for a re-launch of post COVID19 services in 2021.