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By the late 1960s it was becoming apparent that steam was soon to be a thing of the past on our railways. Not just on high profile main line passenger trains, but even on the varied colliery and industrial railways that were such a major part of the North East landscape.
The region that gave the practical and efficient railway to the world was in danger of allowing that legacy to disappear and be forgotten. Railway museums and preservation schemes were appearing elsewhere in the country, but nothing north of Yorkshire was on the horizon.
A small group of like-minded people agreed that something ought to be done to redress the balance. They began looking for a location that could form the base for a collection of locomotives that were built and worked locally.
In 1970 the National Coal Board's Marley Hill engine shed was closed. The nearby Beamish Museum stepped in to use the building as a store. But, our group of like-minded enthusiasts managed to agree with Beamish that they could work on the railway items housed there as well as bringing some locomotives that they had acquired on to site too.
The first locomotive to steam at Marley Hill in preservation was Malleable No.5 from the Beamish collection and the group also worked on the repairs to the museum's North Eastern Railway 'C' Class locomotive. Within a couple of years, Beamish had their own railway centred around a recreated colliery and the rebuilt Rowley station. Their stock was moved from Marley Hill to their current site.
A new connecting curve was built from the shed yard at Marley Hill and onto the Tanfield branch itself. In 1977 the first passenger trains were run on half of a mile of track between Marley Hill and Bowes Bridge. By 1982 track had reached Sunniside, a mile from Marley Hill.
Attention then turned South to the track bed from Terrace Junction to Andrews House, Causey and the site of the former East Tanfield colliery. After rebuilding the partially demolished Gibraltar Bridge at Andrews House, track laying continued through a newly built station and on towards Causey.
The railway between Andrews House and Causey was opened in 1992 and the following year the first trains made it to East Tanfield, although a platform there was not opened to the public until 1997. Throughout this period locomotives, carriages and waggons were restored, buildings erected at stations and workshops built at Marley Hill to form a complete operational railway.
Since 1997 development of more buildings at Marley Hill to store the now extensive collection has taken precedence as well as the growing task of maintaining the operational railway. Construction of a new station building at East Tanfield was begun in 2012 and completion is hoped for by the end of 2014. Plans exist for further development at both East Tanfield and Marley Hill and in the future there could be potential to extend the railway along the former Bowes Railway track bed, West to Byermoor.
All of this has only been made possible thanks to the dedication of the hundreds of volunteers who have given up their time and energy over the years, and of course our visitors, who by paying to ride our trains ensure that the railway will survive for future generations.
23 February 2020