About Tanfield Railway

About The Tanfield Railway

Nowadays, the Tanfield Railway carries passengers while focusing on the industrial railway heritage of the North East of England.    See Tanfield Revival for our post 1969 history.   Formerly, Tanfield's colliery railway routes transported coal to the Tyne, thence particularly to London and South East England - see History on the Tanfield Railway web.

The Tanfield Railway has three core principles:
  1. We collect & use locomotives built and/or used in NE England.
  2. We mirror industrial & minor railways of NE England, such as the Bowes Railway, SSM&WCR (the Marsden Rattler), Lambton Railway, Londonderry Railway, Ashington Colliery Railway, & North Sunderland Railway.
  3. We present ourselves within the period 1920-1950, reflected in the use of mainly steam, our stock, buildings, infrastructure, decor, & staff attire.
Our History

The 1725 Sunniside to Causey section, two miles of our three mile line, is the world's oldest railway which is still in use.   (There were older waggonways, but these are no longer in use.   Others claim to be the oldest in particular respects, but the Tanfield waggonway was built much earlier using wayleaves and legal agreements by the Grand Allies.)

  • Our main base is the P&JR shed at Marley Hill, built by 1854, the world's oldest locomotive shed which is still in use.
  • We run on the Causey Embankment, built by 1725, so the first large railway embankment in the world.
  • We pass Causey Arch, at 1727 the world's oldest railway bridge.
  • Causey arch, embankment & culvert are grade 1 listed, and have been nominated for world heritage status.

Our Routes
Part of Map G drawn by Roger Hateley from Industrial Railways & Locomotives of
County Durham Part 2 by Mountford & Holroyde, published by & available from IRS 
  • The Grand Allies / BJR / NER / LNER / BR route of 1647 to 1964 latterly ran 7 miles south to north.   This was called the Tanfield Waggonway, then the Tanfield Branch.   It was never owned by the NER, LNER or BR, but was operated by them on wayleaves.   It carried coal from Tanfield Moor, Tanfield Lea, East Tanfield, Marley Hill & Watergate collieries to the Tyne at Redheugh.   At first, coal was transferred to keels to be reloaded downstream onto sea going ships; latterly coal was moved onward by rail, with some via Dunston staiths.
  • The P&JR / Bowes / NCB route built by 1854 ran 15 miles west to east.   It took coal from Dipton, Burnopfield, Byermoor, Crookbank, Marley Hill, Kibblesworth, Mount Moor, Springwell, Wardley & Follonsby collieries, via Monkton coke works, to deep water berths on the Tyne at Jarrow.   There were also exchange sidings for onward rail shipment at Jarrow.
  • These two routes cross at Marley Hill, and competed to lead Durham coal to the Tyne for export & shipping to SE England.
  • The Tanfield Way was built as a wooden waggonway using horses; the P&JR was built as an iron railway, & used locos from the outset rather than horses.   The Tanfield Way was modernized over time, so that it also use steel rails and locos.  Both routes had rope worked inclines, using stationary engines or gravity.   
  • There were older sections on both routes.   The P&JR site at Springwell (preserved as the Bowes Railway) and the now isolated loco shed at Springwell Bank Foot date from 1829.   The Tanfield Waggonway closer to the Tyne at Redheugh dates from the late 1600s, but railways disappeared from here in the 1980s.
  • In 1977 we installed a tight curve to connect the two routes.   There were previous connections used for occasional loco & waggon transfers.   Maintenance contracts and limits fluctuated across & spanned the two routes over the years.
  • The Tanfield Railway runs on part of each route.  Our passenger carrying line runs on 3 miles of the Tanfield Branch, with two short sections of 1 in 40 gradient between East Tanfield & Engine Curve (Causey West Incline), and Causey Level Crossing & Andrews House (Causey East Incline).   Marley Hill shed & yard are on the P&JR, on which we have hopes of extending a mile westwards towards Crookgate.

Engine and Locomotive Sheds

  • From 1839, the BJR had stationary engine houses on the Tanfield Waggonway at Causey East Incline and Causey West Incline, corresponding to our current 1 in 40 sections, with horses & balanced inclines used elsewhere.
  • In 1881 the NER modernized the route with steel rails and steam locomotives replacing the engines.   Bowes Bridge locomotive shed, built on the site of the Causey East stationary engine, housed locos mainly for the section from Streetgate to the collieries at Tanfield, and operated as a sub shed of Gateshead Greenesfield until 1964.   The turntable pit & coaling ramp remain today.
  • The PJR had several stationary engine and locomotive sheds on its route and branches, ours at Marley Hill housed locos for the section west of Birkheads from 1854 until 1970.

Your Invitation

We aim to allow public access to the site & the collection nearly every day of the year.   We run passenger trains every Sunday, plus other days - see Events on the Tanfield Railway web .
  • Visit us - we'll make you feel welcome - click Plan Your Visit on the Tanfield Railway web
  • Join us - you can become a member of the Tanfield Railway Friends, which publishes three magazines per year - click Join Us / Become a Friend on the Tanfield Railway web
  • Work with us - click Join Us / Volunteering on the Tanfield Railway web

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