Dating from 1725, the Tanfield Railway formed part of an extraordinary network of horse-drawn wagonways in North East England that became the basis of the railway revolution.
‘TYNESIDE roads’ was the name given to a network of 17th century wooden-track railways around the North East.
One of these was opened at Lobley Hill near Gateshead in 1647, and horses trundled coal along the wagonway to Dunston staiths on the Tyne, to be loaded on collier ships.
In 1725, the route was extended to Sunniside and Causey, with a spur to Dawson’s Drift following shortly after.
It was for that spur that stonemason Ralph Wood, at the cost of £12,000, constructed Causey Arch, the world’s oldest surviving single-arch railway bridge, over the Causey burn. The line was further extended, with steel rails, to East Tanfield in 1839.
Steam locomotives did not arrive until 1881, though two stationary engines at Marley Hill drew wagons along the steeper sections of the route by rope.
The line was closed by the government-owned National Coal Board in 1964, but was acquired by a preservation group, and trains started running again in 1981.
A video (without commentary) about the Christmas-themed ‘North Pole Express’ trains on the Tanfield Railway, from preparations at the engine shed to the trip itself.