Railway's 50th anniversary celebrated in style
VOLUNTEERS at Teesdale's only remaining railway station celebrated its 50th anniversary in style this summer but are not resting on their laurels as work begins for next year’s season.
Passengers queued patiently last month for the opportunity to ride one of two miniature steam trains at Thorpe Light Railway, which opened to the public as part of Heritage Open Days. Volunteers were kept busy with a constant stream of people keen to hop aboard either of the loaned engines Smokey Joe and Cagney – to enjoy the ride on the half-mile circular route.
The railway originally opened in 1971 as part of Whorlton Lido and was one of several attractions former owner Raymond Dunn introduced.
The 15-inch gauge railway, believed the be the only one in County Durham, was a popular attraction during the Lido’s heyday with hundreds of families grabbing a ride during their visits to the riverside spot.
The railway closed to the public in 2005 when it was purchased by new owners, and after vandals broke in and damaged the diesel engine, it fell into disrepair.
It was rescued and brought back to life after Anthony Coulls, senior curator of the National Railway Museum, put together a business plan to reopen it.
It relaunched in 2013, operating as a charity and was renamed Thorpe Light Railway with a core team of about 15 volunteers helping to restore and make improvements.
The charity operates six public open days a year – one a month between April and September – relies on donations and grant money to carry out restoration work.
As well as clearing over-hanging branches the team has lowered the platform make it easier for passengers in and out of the carriages. The 26-metre-long tunnel has been reroofed and drainage work at the lake ensures the track doesn’t flood.
Volunteer Beth Brown, whose husband and son, Andy and Finlay, are among the enthusiastic helpers, said: “We have about 12 to 15 regular volunteers that help out on running days and about 80 members that support us as well.
“We each seem to have our favourite tasks. I like working on woodwork, others like to keep the grass cut but we could do with someone who is interested in technical internet stuff to help with raising awareness.”
New for the 2021 season were three information boards telling the railway’s historic journey.
Although the running season has come to a close, volunteers will be busy during the winter months. As well as ongoing maintenance work, the team plans to replace the original metal sleepers with wooden ones to improve the quality of the ride for passengers for next year’s season when they hope to attract more visitors.
For more information on Thorpe Light Railway or to get involved visit https://thorpelightrailway.co.uk.