North East Branch

Darlington to Bishop Auckland


A short guide to local railway heritage

   Darlington station with Cross Country 221119 forming the 14.59 Penzance to Edinburgh train in the Down platform on 25th January 2011   Roger Darsley
   Middlesbrough station, after restoration, the Hub of Tees Valley Metro with Northern Rail 156480 and TransPennine 185118 on 9th June 2011   Roger Darsley


Darlington Station

Darlington in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was a railway town. It could be said that the railway provided the bricks and mortar of its development. This is reflected in David Mach’s 1997 brick sculpture The Train. This version of the A4 Pacific weighs 1500 tons (181,754 bricks) but does capture some of the essence of steam. Ironically it is at Morton Industrial Park at least three quarters of a mile from any current railway site.

The first station at Bank Top, built by Great North of England Railway in 1841, had a simple pitched roof and was known as Darlington NE. It was enlarged in 1863 when it became known as Darlington Bank Top. The present station was designed by William Bell and completed in 1887. It was the longest arched train shed in Britain until Waterloo International was built in 1992. The main station offices and waiting rooms are in the centre of the island platform and the name is now simply Darlington.

Proposed developments for the Tees Valley Metro are to build a platform down the east curtain wall of the train shed. The present down line would become a bay for the Bishop Auckland trains making room for more parking and retail facilities in the south west of the station area and improving the entrance from Victoria Road.

North of Darlington

North of the station were carriage and freight sidings. The original wagon works became the main locomotive shed on 19 February 1885, when the wagon works moved to Shildon. The S&DR engine shed at North Road was closed. The NER added a round house, but in 1939 the shed was rebuilt as a long straight shed with a mechanised coal loading tower. On the west of the railway were the Darlington Power Station and the Tramway Depot. Today all this has been cleared and the Darlington College occupies part of the locomotive shed site, but Haughton Road Bridge is still a good vantage spot.

North Road

The Northern Rail [www.northernrail.org] Tees Valley train veers west at the remains of the once complex Parkgate Junction and arrives at North Road station, Darlington suburb of Hope Town. Across the East Coast Main Line in the bushes is the 1841 engine shed of the Great North of England Railway, currently without a tenant.

The Stockton & Darlington Railway [S&DR] initially did not provide stations or platforms. The first passengers alighted in the North Road vicinity on 10 October 1825. From 1833 the S&DR allowed passengers to use a warehouse which stood to the east of North Road for five years until the S&DR opened a new station on its present site in 1842. The station lost its Darlington prefix and is now simply North Road. In 1973 a collection of concerned people joined forces with the local council, the town’s Museum Service, and the Tourist Board to restore the station as a museum, while retaining one platform through the train-shed to serve the Bishop Auckland line. The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum which included North Road station, the goods shed and Hope Town Carriage Works in 1975 in time for the 150th anniversary of the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The old Locomotive Works’ scrap yard was cleared and grassed over and is used for events connected with the museum. The museum is now marketed as ‘Head of Steam’ [www.head-of-steam.co.uk] and contains a small but fine display of locomotives built at Darlington over the centuries. It is also the home of the Ken Hoole Study Centre.

In the North Road Goods station, another listed building, is another collection of BR and Industrial locomotives of significance to the history of Darlington. This is the base of the Darlington Railway Preservation Society [www.angelfire.com/mt2/dprs]. Check on the web for their open days before planning a visit.

Darlington North Road Locomotive Works

One of Britain’s premier locomotive workshops, Darlington North Road was opened by the Stockton & Darlington Railway and was subsequently owned by the NER, LNER and BR.

By the 1850s the S&DR Shildon Workshops developed by Hackworth could not keep pace with the locomotives needing repair. At the end of 1857 land at Darlington for a new works had been acquired, with plans being prepared by William Bouch in 1858. The first locomotive built at Darlington North Road Works was a short wheelbase 0-6-0 No. 175 Contractor, turned out in October 1864. For many years the Locomotive Works at Gateshead still built the most important NER locomotives but with the run down of Gateshead in 1908, North Road built its first large passenger locomotive. Among the well known locomotive classes built in the 20th century were the C6 Atlantics, the Q6 and Q7 0-8-0, the B16 4-6-0 and J27 0-6-0, the Raven Pacifics, the unusual W1 class 4-6-2-2 with its water tube boiler, Peppercorn A1 Pacifics, BR 2-6-0 and 2-6-2T, and O3 0-6-0DM, O8 0-6-0DE and class 25 Bo-Bo DE. The works closed in April 1966.

Today all that remains is the Locomotives Works clock on the wall of the supermarket erected on the site in 1980.

There have been, and are, other locomotive works in the Darlington area.

Robert Stephenson & Hawthorns Ltd

Robert Stephenson, son of George, built the first locomotive building works in 1823 on Forth Banks, Newcastle upon Tyne. Robert Hawthorn had built his works nearby in 1817. In 1901 Robert Stephenson & Co Ltd built a new factory at Springfield, Harrowgate Hill, north of Darlington. The company became a subsidiary of the Vulcan Foundry from 1944 and part of English Electric from 1962. The Springfield Works closed on 1 May 1964. The site is now a landscaped park with new housing.

The New Darlington Locomotive Works

   A1 4-6-2 60163 'Tornado' under construction in the S&DR coach works, North Road 26th September 2007   Roger Darsley
The A1 Society [www.a1steam.com] leased the S&DR Hope Town Carriage Works to build their A1 4-6-2 No. 60163 Tornado, a new icon of the steam age. Hopefully this will be followed by a Gresley class P2 2-8-2 Cock of the North. Currently the occupant of the works is a Mk I coach that is being rebuilt as a workshop/support vehicle for Tornado.

The North Eastern Locomotion Preservation Group [www.nelpg.org.uk] uses the other half of the works for locomotive restoration. They have J27 0-6-0 No. 6589, Q6 0-8-0 No. 63395, J72 0-6-0T No. 69623, K1 2-6-0 No. 62005 and from time to time one or two more locomotives will be there for repair or restoration.

In conjunction with the Head of Steam Museum, both the A1 Society’s and NELPG’s ends of the carriage works are open to visitors on the third Saturday of each month.

Also with a presence in Hope Town are the G5 Locomotive Company [www.g5locomotiveltd.co.uk] which is constructing a new NER G5 class 0-4-4T, and the Great Northern Steam Company [www.greatnorthernsteam.co.uk] based at Forge Way in the Cleveland estate, who make mainly miniature locomotives and traction engines, but occasional full size ones as well.

Stockton & Darlington Railway

The first locomotive to run on the S&DR was Locomotion No. 1, built at the Stephenson works, though, in the absence of Robert, Timothy Hackworth had been brought in from Wylam. [On Robert’s return, Hackworth took charge of maintenance at the S&DR’s Shildon Soho Works.

At first the S&DR was run in the traditional manner of the waggonways of the time. The S&DR owned the tracks, but did not operate trains; anyone who paid S&DR money could freely operate steam trains or horse-drawn wagonloads on the line. There was no timetable or other form of central organisation. Trains ran whenever they wanted, and fights often broke out when rival operators came into conflict over right-of-way on the tracks. With the advent of steam, new operating methods had to be developed. By 1833, the S&DR had become entirely steam-operated, with the company becoming the sole train operator on the line. Parallel double tracks were built for trains travelling in opposite directions, timetables and a crude signalling system were established to prevent collisions. These methods of operation became standard on railways across the world.

The S&DR proved a huge financial success and paved the way for modern rail transport. Special celebrations occurred on the 100th, 125th and 150th anniversaries of the opening of the line. Much, but not all, of the original S&DR line is still operating today, together with the later lines to Saltburn and Bishop Auckland, but the rest of the S&DR’s substantial network has been closed and dismantled.


This station serves not only the village of Heighington but the new town of Newton Aycliffe. This is the 46 acre site of a new locomotive works at Amazon Park. The Hitachi Rail Project [www.hitachirailproject.co.uk] has planned the HST Intercity 125 replacements.

Hitachi is part of the Agility Trains consortium which has just been awarded a Ł4.5BN contract to construct, maintain and service the next generation of inter-city carriages to improve the UK’s mainline rail services.

Nearly 600 new carriages will be made in a factory to be built at Amazon Park, a site owned by Merchant Place Developments. Construction will start in 2013 and the facility will be operational from 2015, and 30 jobs will be created along with a further 200 construction jobs.

Merchant Place Developments hope to use the rail access to the Hitachi site to develop a logistics and warehousing centre on the remaining 70 acres of the Park.


   A4 4-6-2 60010 'Dominion of Canada' undergoing cosmetic restoration at Locomotion, NRM Shildon on 30th November 2012   Roger Darsley
Shildon railway station was rebuilt and modernised as part of the construction of the National Railway Museum’s annex in the town. It is adjacent to the museum’s demonstration line. The Museum was built in 2004 and includes Timothy Hackworth’s house, the original Sans Pareil, an early railway workshop, goods shed and parcels office, coal drops and the large, modern collection building. Originally an annex to the main museum at York, it now runs a programme of its own, as Locomotion, the NRM at Shildon [www.nrm.org.uk/locomotion]. The museum is partially open-air and the site extends over half a mile. An ‘Ecobus’ runs every 15 minutes from 10.30am to 4.30pm [3.30pm in winter].

The Shildon Wagon Works lies to the west of the museum and station and is now an industrial estate, known as Hackworth Park. Unit 8A is the home of Rail Restorations North East Limited [www.rail-restorations-north-east.co.uk] who carry out heritage vehicle renovations.

Bishop Auckland

The S&DR and the NER originally had separate stations at South Church and Tenter Street respectively. A joint station was built in 1857 which, in 1905, was rebuilt in its well-known triangular layout. In that form it served lines to Darlington, to Barnard Castle and thence to Kirby Stephen, to Durham, to Ferryhill, to Crook and the Wear Valley railway. All those lines, except those to Darlington and the Wear Valley, and the station, were closed on 6 June 1986. The latter was replaced with a new short platform on the site of the Crook platform. A supermarket and shops, and a car park, occupy the original station site and the new station is the terminus of the Northern Rail Tees Valley line.

The Weardale Railway

In November 1843, the Bishop Auckland & Weardale Railway was opened from Shildon Junction to Crook. The line was leased and worked by the Stockton & Darlington Railway. An extension of this line in 1845 from Crook to Waskerley served as another outlet for the Derwent Iron Company at Consett. The Wear Valley Act of July 1845 provided a line into Weardale proper from Witton Junction [Wear Valley Junction] on the Bishop Auckland & Weardale Railway to Frosterley, with a branch to Bishopley. The line opened 3 August 1847.

In 1862 the Wear Valley line was extended to Stanhope by the Frosterley & Stanhope Railway, mainly to reach the Newlandside Estate, where again there were large quantities of limestone. The final extension of the Wear Valley line to Wearhead was opened on 21 October 1895. It was impossible to extend the line from the existing station at Stanhope and a new one had to be built. Within this section of the line was the Greenfoot Whinstone Quarry, which had its own narrow gauge railway system. Between Eastgate and Westgate at Cambokeels, sidings were established to serve the Weardale Iron Company’s Heights limestone quarry.

Four trains per day served the stations of Witton-le-Wear, Harperley, Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope, Eastgate, Westgate-in-Weardale, St John’s Chapel and Wearhead, until closure on 29 June 1953. The freight service to Wearhead survived until 1961, when the line was cut back to St John’s Chapel. In 1968 it was further cut back to Eastgate. Eastgate Cement Works were established in 1964 and brought new life to the Wear Valley line. A campaign to save the line west of Bishop Auckland, now known as the Weardale Railway, began in 1993. Until 2004, the line was mothballed, but purchase by Weardale Railways Limited was achieved in that year. The first section reopened was between Stanhope and Wolsingham. Following cash-flow difficulties in 2005 the Company was restructured as a community interest company, Weardale Railways CIC [www.weardale-railway.org.uk].

   RCTS Special 141113 at the Weardale Railway station in Bishop Auckland on the RCTS 75th Anniversary 16th April 2011   Roger Darsley
Weardale Railways CIC comprises British American Rail Services [owners of the Dartmoor Railway and RMS Locotech] – 75%, Weardale Railway Trust – 12.5%, and Durham County Council – 12.5%. The company is authorised to operate an 18.7 mile micro-franchise from Bishop Auckland to Eastgate. At Bishop Auckland there is a connection with the branch line from Darlington, and the Weardale Railway station platform is a short walk from the Northern Rail platform. Passenger services on the Wear Valley are run by class 141 DMU and heritage steam locomotives. A community passenger service was discontinued in 2012 and the line now runs purely as a Heritage Railway. However, it is authorised to operate freight, and an open-cast coal train leaves about 11.00am every weekday from the concentration depot at Wolsingham hauled by a Colass class 66 Co-CoDE. There is a possibility that limestone may also be carried by rail in the future.

last updated: 17/01/13