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Southern steam comes North

Tanfield Railway driver, David Allinson, prepares No. 178 for the weekend Photo:

A rare 104 year old steam locomotive has completed a 300 mile journey to the North East to take part in a fortnight of celebrations on the World’s oldest railway.

South Eastern and Chatham Railway ‘P’ Class locomotive No. 178 has left the famous Bluebell Railway in Sussex and made the lengthy journey to the Tanfield Railway near Gateshead to take part in events celebrating the regions’ rich railway heritage.

Built in Ashford, Kent in 1910, No. 178 was one of a special class of steam locomotives built specifically to work branch line trains in the South East.

The 28 ton locomotive worked in London suburbs, in the Brighton and Reading areas and in Kent before being withdrawn by British Railways after nearly 50 years in service.After a period working at a paper mill in Kent, No. 178 was preserved by the Bluebell Railway, the first branch line in the country to be saved and operated by volunteers.

It was restored to its original South Eastern and Chatham Railway condition, complete with fine lining and highly polished brass work in 2010.

The visit to Tanfield Railway is believed to be the first time that the locomotive has ever travelled North of London, the trip being arranged specially to take part in celebrations to mark 175 years since iron rails were first laid on the Tanfield route.

When rebuilt as a ‘modern’ railway in 1839 by the Brandling Junction Railway, the Tanfield line from collieries near Stanley to the Tyne at Dunston, became one of the world’s first branch lines as they would be recognised today.

It was linked to the main Brandling Junction route that connected Gateshead with South Shields, much of which is still in use today. The modernisation also led to steam locomotives being introduced and transformed mining in the area.

A passenger service was even introduced for a short time.The visiting ‘P’ Class will be in action alongside locomotives based at Tanfield onMay 24-26 plus the weekend of May 31 andJune 1.

Special screenings of two iconic films featuring branch lines will also take place at the line’s recreated countryside station, Andrews House.

The classic Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt will be shown on May 24-26 while the evocative original film adaptation of The Railway Children will be shown on May 31 and June 1.

No pre-booking is required and passenger trains will run from 10.30am to 3.30pm each day.For more information visit the Tanfield Railway website.

“When this route was modernised it became a very early example of what we would recognise as a branch line today. It was also one of the earliest recorded examples of ‘modernisation’ of transport infrastructure. But it’s a period of North East railway history that isn’t well understood.“We wanted to celebrate this period of our history with a special visitor that really summed up what branch lines are all about. The ‘P’ Class with its elaborate livery and gleaming brass work really encapsulates everything about rural branch lines that were so loved and found their way into so many people’s lives.”

– Tanfield Railway Director, David Watchman