History in the making at Aln Valley Railway

The first train over the extended track returning into Lionheart station. Picture by Dudley George.
The first train over the extended track returning into Lionheart station. Picture by Dudley George.

These were the scenes as the Aln Valley Railway marked a historic moment last week.

For the first time in more than 50 years, a revenue-earning, steam-hauled passenger train chugged along part of the Alnwick to Alnmouth branch line.

Steam locomotive Richboro ascending the gradient up from the old Alnwick to Alnmouth trackbed towards the curve into Lionheart station. Picture by Pat Murphy/AVR.

Steam locomotive Richboro ascending the gradient up from the old Alnwick to Alnmouth trackbed towards the curve into Lionheart station. Picture by Pat Murphy/AVR.

The last steam passenger train (operated by British Railways) to do so was on June 18, 1966.

The monumental moment happened last Thursday, when the railway’s steam locomotive Richboro propelled two carriages, plus a brake van named Olive, out of Lionheart Station, on the outskirts of Alnwick.

It then went around the newly-installed curve and down the incline onto the original Alnwick to Alnmouth line trackbed.

This newly-laid and ballasted track had been awaiting completion of necessary fencing and signposting at farm level crossings before passenger trains could start.

Steam locomotive Richboro ascending the gradient up from the old Alnwick to Alnmouth trackbed towards the curve into Lionheart station. Picture by Pat Murphy/AVR.

Steam locomotive Richboro ascending the gradient up from the old Alnwick to Alnmouth trackbed towards the curve into Lionheart station. Picture by Pat Murphy/AVR.

Once this was completed, the go-ahead for the first passenger trains could be given.

The historic moment came as part of the railway’s Mince Pie Specials event, held from December 28 to December 30.

As part of the journey, the train stopped at the temporary terminus at Bridge 6 before making a spirited return towards Lionheart.

A stop was also made near to the top of the gradient to give the engine crew some practice at restarting the train on the steep and curved gradient, before it re-entered Lionheart Station’s Platform 1.

Lionheart hosted a good complement of visitors, some of whom had travelled from as far away as County Durham, South Tyneside and the Scottish Borders.

The railway’s Buffet Stop was very busy issuing mince pies and hot drinks to the visitors.

Numerous passenger trains were run in push-pull mode until dusk with many of the visitors enjoying several rides. Last Friday opened up different photo opportunities as more than two inches of snow had fallen, transforming the appearance of Lionheart and the lineside.

Last Saturday – the final day of the Mince Pie Specials – proved to be the most popular day in terms of visitor numbers. Overall, the event proved to be a great success and a worthy addition to the railway’s timetable.

Earlier in December, the Aln Valley Railway’s Santa Trains had once again been fully booked. These trains were diesel-hauled by the railway’s Barclay locomotive.

The Aln Valley Railway is an ambitious heritage development to re-open most of the Alnwick to Alnmouth branchline. Work is on going, with the aim of reaching Alnmouth Station in a few years time. Visit www.alnvalleyrailway.co.uk