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Newcastle To Carlisle Railway

The beginning 19th Century - by Colin Moore

At the time when railways were first envisaged the Tyne Valley was a fairly remote place. There was a string of small communities each quite individualistic and enjoying poor connectivity. For example Hexham to Haltwhistle was a day’s walk, so each developed their own trading domains. Likewise Haltwhistle to Brampton – but very few would routinely travel that far.

Prior to 1756 Newcastle and Carlisle were only connected by a bridle way. The Roman Road – The Stanegate was little more than a remnant of its former self. In 1756 General Wade organised construction of what we call the Military Road in response to the need to move troops east to west quickly in the light of the Jacobite rebellion a few years earlier. The Hexham/Haydon Bridge/Haltwhistle Turnpike road came a little later – but not on the alignment of the A69 today.

The Border Reivers may have gone but it was still a very rural community with only the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution at hand. The railway was going to change that markedly.

Newcastle & Carlisle Railway was one of Britain’s earliest envisaged lines. It was, surprisingly, considered for closure during the 1960’s Beeching era, but ironically, is now reclassified as an important Trans-European route

Canals were the common forebears of the railways but to consider a scheme crossing the Pennines required something of an engineering wonder, but investors did. 1776 saw a proposal of a Newcastle to Carlisle Canal (a sort of mini-Panama Canal linking North Sea with Irish Sea – perhaps more a variant on the Manchester Ship Canal on a smaller scale)running on the north side of the Tyne in the valley – scale not clear – but potentially with the need for Bardon Mill Locks. By 1797 that had become a Newcastle to Haydon Bridge canal scheme – mainly aimed at the lead industry around Allendale. The alignment of the proposed canal was not greatly different to the River Tyne. There were rival schemes taking a route south of the River and the uncertainty this caused to investors and competing landowners seriously harmed the prospect of any schem going ahead.

By early 1800 another scheme was proposed - a waggon-way between Newcastle and Hexham but that did not progress – waggon ways were early railways. By 1808 the canal idea was back in fashion. Thomas Telford the great road and canal engineer did a further survey for a Newcastle/Solway canal but matters did not progress because of the Napoleonic Wars.

Railways had started to evolve by the 1820’s and the choice had to be made between a Canal or a Railway. 1824 saw the High Sherriff of Northumberland preside over a meeting to consider the idea of a Newcastle – Carlisle railway line. This was ahead of the 1825 opening of the Stockton & Darlington railway. Costs of a canal v railway were weighed up – Canal £888k – Railway £252k. Not bad for a railway when you consider that was for more than 60 miles of track, which in 2015 costs at least £10m per mile. £252k would now be circa £600m. This is not a true comparison but not totally misleading. Not surprising the railway scheme won the day.

The line was to run along the north-side of the Tyne to Ryton and then over the river broadly along today’s route to Carlisle. That route avoided the estates of the Earl of Carlisle who was seemingly hostile – but who had a change of heart when the potential of the railway was fully realised and he would became a very real beneficiary. A later scheme saw the Tyne being crossed by the railway at Scotswood – in the event both schemes were eventually done in some form.

In 1825 Newcastle and Carlisle Railroad Company was formed – with construction price now set at £292k so the new Railway Co. had a £300k share capital. Finance was raised in 6 weeks – Railway mania in the UK was beginning, so money was no problem. Certainly those with minerals to extract in the area could see the benefits immediately - lead, coal, anthracite even gold. A string of branch lines were suggested including one from Brampton to Annan via Gretna. Many were never built. NIMBYISM is not new - Vested interests started to get in the way and perhaps reminiscent of the dot.com bubble in 2000 – many projects flopped.

At Hexham – the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners proposed a rerouting away from the town in a 440 yds tunnel under St John Lee on the north side of the river and thus avoiding the town centre. The Vicar of St John Lee was one of the objectors. He feared the church was threatened by the works. He thought it would collapse even though hundreds of feet above the intended alignment. Ignorance played its part in these objections. The Earl of Carlisle – now more railway minded with his own coal mining interests to consider - wanted more revisions to the original plan near Brampton. He now felt the line should run nearer the town and avoid a branch. The townsfolk opposed the move; they thought it would ruin the town. The Earl accepted this approach. Hexham and particularly Brampton still to some extent suffer from the decision to keep trains out of the town centre.

Charles Bacon at Styford Hall however was probably the most difficult landowner. He would not sell land and his acreage could not be avoided. He simply did not want to see a railway anywhere near his house. The railway sought to charaterise him to the local community as selfish. He finally succumbed in 1829 when he saw it was a lost cause. He got £3k for 7 acres of land – pretty good for the time. A final course for the line was fixed in 1828 and Parliamentary consent was obtained in 1829 but it was a battle. Royal Assent was given in May 1829.

Prior to the railway two stage coaches went between Newcastle to Carlisle daily. There was a link between the Bowes Hotel and the stage-coaches which were using the Turnpike road from Hexham. The two stage-coaches - Royal Mail and the True Briton - each took 8.5 hrs for the trip. Perhaps there would be a few stops for liquid along the route – and not just for the horses. They survived for many years after the trains arrived.

Work on the railway started in 1831 – the first goal being to link Carlisle with the navigable Tyne at Blaydon. Construction started from both ends simultaneously. Viaducts at Wetheral and Corby were amongst the first developments. The long Cowans Hill cutting near Brampton Fell required one millions tons of sand and clay to be removed – achieved with spades and barrows.

By late 1831 work from the east had reached Corbridge but money was running out – as it commonly did with these schemes. Failure to properly cost projects is not new, or limited to Network Rail. Unquestionably the west of the line was more expensive to develop than the east with more heavy civil engineering requirements. New cash had to be found and a further £100k was secured by Government loans

By 1833 it was reported work from the west had reached Blenkinsopp and from the east Hexham. Work on the stretch from Hexham to Blenkinsopp including Bardon Mill was still not underway. By 1834 goods trains were running from Blaydon to Stocksfield – but pulled by horses. It was only in 1834 that the railway decided it needed locomotives. They had thought horses would do the trick. The 1829 Act specifically prohibited steam locomotives – a move seemingly to please local gentlefolk. Introduction of the ‘Iron-horse’ idea was to lead to more trouble with land-owners.

Blaydon to Hexham was ready by 1834 and they had two steam engines by 1835 – Comet and Rapid. Passenger traffic between Blaydon and Hexham commenced in March 1835. However it had to be stopped almost immediately when Captain Bacon Grey of Styford got a legal injunction to stop operations. Bacon intensely disliked the iron horses. The Grey’s came under heavy local pressure and succumbed. The arguments provide early evidence of ‘nimbyism’, fortunately being firmly opposed in Tynedale. The prohibiting Act was amended and by May 1835 all was set fair, again.

1836 saw work commence between Haydon Bridge and Hexham but bad weather delayed progress. The railway now had three more engines. Station House at Haydon Bridge was completed in that year.

The railway bridge at Wardon was originally made of wood – but this was burned down as a result of ignition by engine sparks in 1848. A cast iron bridge replaced it (and that has since been replaced again by a bigger structure).

The line from the east opened to Haydon Bridge on 29th June 1836 – which became the railhead for Allendale and Alston mineral extraction industries pending alternatives being developed. A Special passenger train was run from Blaydon to Haydon Bridge which took 3 hrs for the journey which included many celebration stops. It is marginally faster today. A triumphal arch had been built at Haydon Bridge to greet the train

The first passenger train from the west to Blenkinsopp ran in July 1836 – four trains were run with one comprising 17 coaches. 420 passengers made the journey. So now there was only the Blenkinsopp – Haydon Bridge section to complete. The gap between these points required a stage coach journey. Work on this stretch was underway by March 1837

The Whitchester cutting required 200k cu. yards of stone and earth to be moved and that went to form the embankment west of Haltwhistle. To go under Whitchester Hall the railway had to engineer a shallow cut tunnel. These are an engineering nightmare with the risk of constant movement (which is what has happened). Almost certainly the owners would not sell the Hall which the railway would then have demolished. Compulsory Purchase Orders as we know them today would have solved the problem (as at other difficult locations along the line) but in those days the landedowners could refuse to sell. To go around it would have been very expensive, as the geology in that area provided a major complication. (A few years ago British Rail tried again to buy the property, but their £1.5m offer was refused. Whitchester Tunnel is an ongoing problem for the railway.)

The route of the line was changed at Ridley that meant a third bridge was required to cross the Allen. The line was originally to broadly follow the A69 route north of the river from Lipwood to Bardon Mill but the gradients may have created some issues – a problem Canal builders would certainly have found. During 1838 timber bridges were built at Lipwood and Ridley, Whitchester Tunnel was finished.

1838 saw stations built at Bardon Mill and Haltwhistle. Bardon Mill station had no platforms – the train stopped and passengers stepped down from it. Opening of this stretch of line was on ‘Waterloo day 18th June 1838. Five special trains left Carlisle around 6.am. and got to Redhaugh, Newcastle at 9.30.a.m. It was a little chaotic at the Newcastle end. The plan was for the distinguished passengers to go on to Newcastle by steamer along the Tyne but in the haste to get about the gangway collapsed and 12 visitors had an early morning bath. The chaos continued one train hit the back of another at New Milton station, coaches were derailed and two passengers injured. Over 3,500 travelled that day

Average train speed then was 23 mph a figure that is better today but if you accept a stopping train takes 98 mins from Central station to Carlisle, average speed is only c 40 mph.

The railway finally reached Newcastle in 1839.

One early success was the ticketing system devised by the booking clerk at New Milton – Thomas Edmundson. He invented a system in 1836 which became a standard across the railways until c 1970. Edmundson became a wealthy man.

By 1840 the Alston branch was being considered. Initially it was envisaged this would continue to Nenthead and even Middleton in Teesdale via a long tunnel under Alston Moor. The project beyond Alston proved difficult even on the drawing board and was not pursued. In that year 7000 tones of lead were produced from 60 mines in the area annually. Alston parish had 6000 inhabitants – a very alluring prospect for a railway company.

The Alston branch scheme was approved in 1845 with a link to the main-line at Haltwhistle. The start of works was delayed due to the economic climate but construction started in 1850. Construction was very challenging and included projects such as Lambley Viaduct – a truly magnificent structure 100 ft plus above the river. It is a structure well worth seeing from both its top and the river valley below – and makes a nice walk down the South Tyne Trail.

As with the Tyne Valley line so the Alston Branch -Local landowners were again being difficult or opportunist – in that respect the names Cuthbert Ellison and James Hope-Wallace recur. Services started in 1852 and provided a life-line to Alston but the boom had passed by 1870. A Double track line was envisaged but never built. The line soon became an expensive loss-maker.

In the same year disaster struck at Haltwhistle’s Alston Arches. What must have been a great flood on the Tyne brought down two piers on Alston Arches and damaged a third. Whether this was poor construction or the power of the river, history does not seem to properly discuss. Equally, whether the lack of open aspect through the south bank column, preventing a view down the column line from one bank to the other is due to strengthening of piers or that they never built the intended cartway underneath also seems unclear.

In 1841 a leading Architectural expert of the day described quite a number of Newcastle & Carlisle Railway station houses as ‘perfect specimens of taste and style in architecture – Bardon Mill was one of them. Station House at Bardon Mill was built c1836 and was probably designed by Benjamin Green, who did considerable work for the railway. Another eminent Architect named Biddle commented that he particularly liked Haltwhistle and Bardon Mill station houses.

The Carlisle bound platform was on an elevated embankment stretch opposite the end of Station Road whilst the Newcastle bound platform is where it currently sits. The west-bound platform apparently subsided and had to be replaced in 1982 to its current position. At the outset trains ran on the opposite tracks to today. Carlisle bound trains were therefore on the north-side line at Bardon Mill. – rather like continental roads.

Bardon Mill station was unusual as it had a wagon turntable which swung at right angles to the main line – it is likely that was in conjunction with the position of the conveyors from Barcombe pit etc.

History reports a ‘great snowstorm in March 1846 which stopped everything between Greenhead and Hexham. From an early stage most of the engines on the line had snow-ploughs routinely fitted so obviously Bardon Mill weather was markedly colder than today.

Many improvements were made over the next 20 years particularly to the tracks and particularly after a spectacular derailment at Haltwhistle in 1851. Haltwhistle was the scene of another tragic accident in 1870. Contrary to regulations (but approved by the local inspector) platelayers had attached some of their wagons to the back of a passenger train heading toward Newcastle. One of the wheels broke after a short distance, the wagon derailed and three were killed and five injured. The Inspector was let off very lightly by both North Eastern Railway and the judiciary – with a rebuke – a marked contrast with modern H & S legislation.

The bridge at Wardon was originally made of wood – but this was burned down as a result of ignition by engine sparks in 1848. A cast iron bridge replaced it. By that time there was 4 passenger trains each way through Bardon Mill and two on Sundays. This increased very marginally by 1880. Any remaining single track sections had been upgraded and heavy traffic flows were common-place.

Newcastle & Carlisle railway had 43 engines, 3200 wagons and 90 coaches in 1862. Many of the engines bore local place names – but sadly none was named ‘Bardon Mill’. The line became part of the North Eastern Railway in 1862 once they realised how lucrative a line it was. The Caledonian Railway had tried and failed to buy it in 1848 to give it access to Tyneside. A measure of the Tyne Valley lines commercial value can be seen by considering the 1859 N & C income of £103k, whilst the rest of the huge North Eastern Railway earned £991k. Other railway companies eyed it up but failed to move quickly enough. The North Eastern saw the purchase as a critical strategic move.

Improvements continued into the 1860’s/70’s; Wooden bridges at Lipwood and over the Allan were replaced by cast iron structures – one cost £3k the other £1.3k. Compare that with the new small railway bridge over the roadway at Ridley built c6 years ago which probably cost best part of a £1m.

The Weir in the Tyne at Haltwhistle was created at the behest of the railway to deal with regular flood risks. The Lords of the Manor at Haltwhistle earned 10 shillings per year for granting that privilege.

By 1895 the number of passengers at Bardon Mill was 15,910. By 1907 this was 17,111 Today we have c9,900. Current figures show that Haltwhistle passenger footfall has risen marginally, but Hexham has tripled to over 300k.

By the turn of the century railways were very much a driving force in Tynedale's economy. In Bardon Mill the building of cottages down Station Road and at the crossing, shows the size of the labour force employed on the railway. Prime-facie up to 20 men had railway related jobs in the village if coal loaders and track gang members are included. It is often said that small stations never paid their way. Bardon Mill certainly did. In 1900 it took £1,876 with operating costs of £310.

The 20th Century

The 19th Century closed with the railways on a high, without any serious competition in the Tyne Valley. The Newcastle & Carlisle Railway had become part of the North Eastern Railway. In 1900 Bardon Mill passenger and goods station 1900 took £1,876 with operating costs of £310.

Station House had been again extended to accommodate the larger family of the new senior incumbent – the Station Master.

North Eastern Railway Timetable for 1910 shows:
Traffic overall on the Tyne Valley main-line was very heavy in the pre-Great War years
Bardon Mill was fairly typical of the railway around the turn of the century.
It had coal traffic which added an industrial element but also agricultural activity.
Passenger trains stopped to pick up Horse boxes.
Around six freight trains stopped (or could stop) per day to collect or set down goods.
The night mail express shot through in each direction between 1 and 2.am.
A week-day would see 80 plus trains along the line – as per the North Eastern working timetable.

There would have been up to 20 railway workers at Bardon Mill – Station Master, Clerks, Porters, Goods staff including coal loaders and the track-maintenance gang (they now turn up in vans but then they lived locally and ‘owned ‘ their own length of track – prizes were given for the best sections of track.

1923 to 1948 is best described as a period of stagnation on the Tyne Valley line or even decay. The Brampton to Brampton Juction branch line carried 7.5k passengers in 1913 and this went up 14.7k in 1914 – primarily due to war related movements. Business on that line was much diminished post the Great war and the line ceased to carry passengers in 1923.

World War 1 saw much activity of the railway. Coal traffic increased to serve the needs of the fleet, more manpower was moved about but it was a time when the railway companies started to fail. The Government imposed price constraint, war-time traffic pressures, labour shortages (real and imposed) plus lack of maintenance of track, rolling stock and locomotives started to make their mark.

The 1920’s provided a period when the motor age was growing. Competition from buses grew all along the Tyne Valley route and with rail traffic right across the region. Lorries became a major competitor to the railway for goods traffic during this time – particularly later in the 1930’s. The railways were bogged down by Government controls on pricing etc which the emerging road industry was not.

Enforced amalgamations on the railway became necessary – North Eastern Railway was integrated into the London North Eastern Railway in 1923, (alongside the Great Northern, Great Eastern and North British railways) plus other minor names.

Elements of culture and practice began to change but only slowly. The railway was still about service – a commitment to getting the job done around the clock. But it was a time when the bean-counters first gained real power – power which was to become all pervasive by the 1960’s.

The Newcastle Granite & Whinstone company opened a quarry at Cawfields to provide roadstone in 1902. It was rail connected. The line ran up the Haltwhistle Burn and was a narrow gauge 2ft railway. Some of the earthworks and remnants of this line are still visible. It lasted until 1935 when lorries took over the task.

Allendale branch line was pruned in 1930 of passenger services and finally closed to all traffic in 1950. Alston branch continued as there was no alternative good road – 4 trains each way per day –the service increased to 7 each way by 1947 - but more of that later. Main line station closures in the area started in 1952 with Naworth, How Mill and Low Row in January 1959.

Passenger throughput and takings for 1951 in our area show:

Station Passenger No. Revenue
Haydon Bridge 6934 (now 30k+) £2079
Haltwhistle 28168 (now 70k +) £6659
Greenhead 739 £122
Gilsland 1494 £345

Interestingly the Bardon Mill figures are not reported – is therein any interesting story on commercial deception ?

Goods traffic ceased at Wetherall in April 1955. The Border Counties line from Hexham to Riccarton Junction via Wark, Bellingham, Kielder Forest, etc., closed in October 1956. It is recorded the last train arrived in Hexham 100 mins late due to emotional scenes at places such as Bellingham. Part of that line disappeared under the Kielder Reservoir but some bridges remain.

The Tyne Valley main line saw diesel multiple units (similar to today), arrive in 1958 on Newcastle-Carlisle local services. These replaced an array of coaching stock, the variety of which would make a railway enthusiast tearful. Some may have memories of those old coaches – some non-corridor – maybe happy memories.

In the late 50’s early 60’s there were probably around 20 different types of locomotives on the line – some of the most powerful (filling in or running in jobs) and some of the smallest tanks. Expresses such as the Newcastle – Stranraer trains ran with steam until the early-1960’s. It also saw week-end holiday traffic from the North East to Blackpool etc after the line over Stainmore closed. At that time there was a lot of through freight traffic – coal being a key flow.

By now Dr Beeching had arrived in one plan he saw no future for the Newcastle – Carlisle line; in another it was intended to close the Newcastle – Edinburgh line and send all traffic Anglo-Scottish traffic from the east via the Tyne Valley Line. Then it seemed that only a Newcastle – Carlisle non stop service would exist – every station on the line being closed including Hexham.

Heady days. 60’s politicians were clearly as brain dead as some of their modern contemporaries. A week is a long time in politics but few recognise their mistakes. Long term strategy was not even on their radar. They envisaged roads providing all the answers. In 1965 many stations down the line lost goods handling facilities including Fourstones, Haydon Bridge Greenhead, Gilsland and sadly Bardon Mill where the colliery was still open but coal volumes leaving by rail are unclear.

Around the same time and for the next few years signal boxes on the line started to be pruned. Haltwhistle West Juction (up to the South Tynedale Colliery in Burn Gorge) was removed. Greenhead crossing (where the A69 crossed the tracks) went, along with Gilsland and Fourstones signal boxes to name a few.

In talking about the Bardon Mill Colliery it is important to remember this as part of local railway history. The colliery opened in 1943 with a drift shaft. Initially the colliery rail-borne wagons were primarily moved about by rope-way. This changed to locomotive power – around 1950’s – exact date unknown.

henshaw drift loco 1960

Henshaw Drift Loco 1960

In February 1966 the Transport User Consultative Council (a government related body) sought to close a number of stations down the line. The argument was financially driven but presented as an opportunity to speed up trains which would suit many users. Of those listed only Bardon Mill, Wylam and Blaydon survived.

The usual service withdrawal process was put in hand against which appeals had to be made. Bardon Mill survives to this day because simultaneous with the railway’s desire to close the station came the anticipated end of mining in the village. The Transport Users Consultative Council recognised that the two coming together would create unacceptable hardship for the 240 men being displaced at the mine who had to travel to find new work. In a bleak period that was a stroke of good fortune. Richard Taylor was locally credited with this development. That may be true. At the time of the closure proposal it was reported that 20 regular passengers a day used Bardon Mill. It was expected with the mine closure this would rise to 100.

In January 1967 Fourstones, Gilsland, Greenhead, Heads Nook and Wetherall stations closed. The line still had a passenger and night mail express each way in 1967. In 1967 there was 13 weekday passenger trains through Bardon Mill in each direction (some did not stop) We now have 15 each way of which 10 stop – so service has improved - so much for 1960’s nostalgia.

One attempt had already been made to close the Alston line in 1963. It was a heavy loss maker for BR (and at that stage local authorities did not provide subsidies). It failed. The next attempt was made in 1970 but there was so much uproar from parish and district councils which gained higher level support the plan was again deferred. This time however Northumberland CC got down to planning ‘an all-weather road’ from Featherstone to Lambley to overcome the core reason for the objection – blocking of the Coanwood-Knarsdale high level route in winter. However it still took a further 3 yrs for the line to close in May 1976.

The preservationists arrived in 1983 to reopen the line as a tourist narrow gauge railway which should get from Alston to Slaggyford by 2016. (now open as far as Lintley – 1.25 miles from Slaggyford)

The Melkridge Coal loading site for uploading Plenmeller Opencast site coal came on stream c1991. Coal came over a mile down the fell by conveyor to the loading point. The loading site closed c2000. Around 1.8m tonnes of coal left Plenmellor via this route

To those who wonder about all the steel girders and supports at the west end of Whitchester Tunnel, this is due to a land slip – the ornamental stonework had to be removed to fix the heavy steel girders.

Sadly Richard Taylor, locally associated for many years with the railway, is no longer with us to give some of his many amusing instances of relevant BR experience. but one intriguing episode where Bardon Mill was used to stage a video in 1985 to discourage trespass. A high speed train was brought to Bardon Mill and appeared to be chased by a diesel loco decorated in Police livery with a blue flashing light on the roof. The message seemingly was that the transport police were coming to get you and were coming by train.

The character of traffic on the line has changed compared to when I arrived here to live in 2002. At that stage we still had: the nightly Glasgow- York Mail train through Bardon Mill at 5.30p.m. (This comprised a train of red vans including a mail sorting coach which ran as a non-passenger carrying, express); a very heavy steel ingot train passing at around 6.40p.m. going from Redcar to Workington for rolling into railway track at the Rolling Mill there (This train really did grind along. Now the large Workington Steel works is simply a patch of derelict open ground); a five times weekly nuclear train passing between Sellafield and Seaton Power Station (near Hartlepool), now it is usually around 2 days per week; the Hardingdale (Shap) - Redcar stone train for steel making passing twice daily (now with reduced Steel making, it is a lesser number of times per week. Locals might remember it for its white wagons which gave off considerable dust when heading back east laden. Sadly that is also seemingly to pass into history with the closure of the ISS plant at Redcar) and two large container trains going six days a week from Carlisle to Tees-port.

That traffic has gone elsewhere. We now have had more coal trains (many from the Hunterston terminal in Ayrshire bound for Yorkshire Power stations with Columbian coal) although they are declining as we move to a reduced carbon output position. The trains from the Scottish opencast pits in Ayrshire are also rapidly diminishing with the bankruptcy of Scottish Coal.

One of the most interesting trains now passing is the high volume rail replacement train – all yellow. Rails can be totally relaid at up to 1 km per night. Its worth looking at that train – well over half a mile long with a value of upto c £80m and a locomotive at both ends.

You might also see an all-yellow passenger like train around every two weeks. This is the track checking train. It does the same inspection job at 65 mph that the trackmen walking along the track used to do. That train covers most main lines across the country in a c two/three week cycle.

Each Autumn for a number of weeks, sees Virgin East Coast expresses over the line. That is when the track north of Newcastle is closed for maintenance. It increases the journey to and from Edinburgh by 1.5 hrs, but passengers have voted firmly for that approach rather than using buses. Unfortunately Virgin do not use the same approach when the track north of Carlisle is closed.

What most have probably not seen, is that on some nights the line gets busy with freight traffic. This is when the East Coast mainline north of Newcastle is undergoing maintenance and trains are diverted this way.

What of the future?

These are observations rather than history, but the comments may be of interest:

Transport policy in the UK regions (outside of London) is a mess. London has been very well looked after in terms of new train provision and infrustructure. We are told the Tyne Valley passenger service will increase to 2 trains per hour between Newcastle and Carlisle under the franchise due to start in 2016 albeit at best only one will stop at Bardon Mill.

New trains were promised by Chancellor Osborne early in 2015, pre-election – but cynics may share doubts on that score. It does not help that Tyne and Wearside seem slow in sorting themselves out to gain control over transport funding – as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield have done. Are we the victims of politics over priorities?

Overlay that with the Government suddenly putting back the so-called Northern Powerhouse electrification scheme between Lancashire and Yorkshire until c 2020 (from2016) and one has to ask where those diesel trains are coming from for the enhanced services. Many would have been released by that scheme. Some fear we will rumble on with the appalling Pacer trains for some time to come despite the requirement for them to be history by 2019. They were by built by BR to last 10-15 yrs. maximum. The are now 30 plus years old – a historical artefact in themselves.

As to electrification of the Tyne Valley line; quite bizarrely for a major diversionary route between the key UK main lines this seems unlikely pre-2025. Amazingly taking electric trains down the branch to Bishop Auckland seems to have a higher priority – but then their local MP was on the Parliamentary group that made rail electrification in the north a priority - each member of the Committee recommended lines in their own constituency just ahead of an election and the DfT appeared to buy their ideas – that’s democracy.

With so much chaos in UK transport strategy and essential proven schemes like those in the Northern Powerhouse plan getting delayed, is this time to start on the £80 bn plus HS2 project. Perhaps not.

*Based On A Talk By Colin Moore To The History Group 2015