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Friends Visit To The Tanfield Railway

Feb 19 2016 News >> Latest News

Tanfield RailwayOn a sunny but somewhat chilly day in November a group of FODMs members took to the hills above Gateshead.  The purpose of this grand adventure was to visit the Tanfield Railway and find out how they operate and how they recruit new members.

We met Malcolm Sunter in the car park and after the usual formalities and a bit of hand rubbing (to get warm) headed down to the railway sheds and headquarters. Malcolm is a friend of FODMs member John Chaney and the visit had been arranged between them. Unfortunately John was not able to attend on the day. 

At the railway sheds we were taken into the “mess room “ to meet the Tanfield team. Aided by tea and biscuits we had a really good exchange of information and advice.  The Tanfield is a volunteer run railway that since it was set up in the 1970s has achieved some remarkable things. It is the oldest operating steam railway line in the world. The original tracks were laid in 1725 to move coal from the pits in the County Durham hills to the River Tyne for trans-shipment. To date the Tanfield Railway volunteers have rebuilt engine sheds, built a new carriage shed and repaired a wide range of industrial locomotives.  This is in addition to operating a service for 80 days per year.

The Tanfield volunteers cover all ages and both sexes. The mix of people brings a wide range of skills and knowledge to the railway and it is this that creates a vibrant and active organisation.  Their Chairman John Lennox told us that running the railway is an expensive activity.  Locomotive repairs alone can be as much as £60-70,000. Currently the Tanfield are looking at Heritage Lottery grants to help them in the next stages of their development. He also told us that the pure railway enthusiast is not their main audience and that they are actively seeking to attract more family visits. It is obviously working because the upcoming Santa Specials were sold out.

After the luxurious heat of the mess room we were taken on a tour of the ‘shed” site which is spread over quite an area. In addition to the locomotives we were also shown the workshops. It is easy to see why the Tanfield Railway needs heritage engineering skills but also how it can also develop those skills in the younger generation to help operate and maintain the railway in the future. The tour included a visit to the new carriage shed and much discussion about who remembered the famous “Marsden Rattler”.  As an incomer from Manchester I can only say that there was some obviously misspent youth that took place on said Rattler.

All in all it was a very enjoyable and inspiring visit which hopefully will lead to some more contact between FODMs and the Tanfield Railway.

(Pictured are Tanfield Trust Chairman Derek Smith meeting FODMs Chairman Ian Burdon)

Graham Bradshaw

Last changed: Feb 19 2016



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