A FUNDING windfall means that a historic and unique North East railway is on track for a brighter future.
The Bowes railway at Springwell village, which straddles the boundaries of Gateshead and Sunderland, has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £341,500.
The railway, designed by George Stephenson, opened in 1826 to transport coal from Durham pits to the Tyne at Jarrow.
Bowes is the only operational preserved standard-gauge rope-hauled railway in the world, and is a scheduled ancient monument. The site is kept alive by a group of dedicated volunteers.
Now the grant will help the site contribute to the future of the railways.
The Bowes railway has teamed up with rail training company Intertrain, and the site’s vintage workshops and rail lines are set to play an increasing role in training entrants to the industry.
The new funding will also help develop the railway – operated by the Bowes Railway Company on behalf of owners Gateshead and Sunderland councils – as a visitor attraction.
Graham Hall, vice chairman of the Bowes Railway Company, said that the grant would create two full-time jobs of training and outreach and education officer.
He said: “We want to capitalise on the heritage of the site in its early role in the mining and railway industries of the North East and the Industrial Revolution.
“We want to involve more schools in tours of the site, while the on-site training will tap into the growth of today’s rail industry.
“This grant is pivotal in maximising the use of the site and making it an even more attractive venue for visitors. Our proposed new museum activities, along with outreach and educational work, will be a priority.”
Important restoration works can now also start, such as repairs to the 1904 brakeman’s cabin and bait hut, and creating a viewing platform for visitors.
A small length of spur rail track will also be restored to working condition for passenger rides. The first of a series of special open days will be held on March 3. A new volunteer strategy will ensure that individuals are trained to support the railway’s activities, including engineering maintenance, event management and guided tours.
Ivor Crowther, head of the HLF in the North East, said: “The Bowes Railway played a central role in the industrial history of the area, creating jobs and economic prosperity at the time.
“This project will bring people together to record, share and conserve this important part of the North East railway heritage.
“Creating a heritage training hub on-site will help local people and visitors alike gain valuable new skills and ensure everyone can play a part in the railway’s future.”
Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland West, said she was “thrilled” with the grant.
“This is an enormous opportunity to bring tourism to our area, as well as giving important skills and learning experiences to all those interested in promoting the railway’s past and in the development of its future,” she said.
The railway has steam and diesel locomotives, old colliery waggons, historic workshops and exhibition, and 18th and 19th-century buildings.
At its peak, the railway handled over a million tons of coal per year and remained virtually intact until 1968.
Between 1968 and 1974, most of the line was closed until only the last 3.5 miles between Monkton and Jarrow staithes were operated by the National Coal Board.
The original 1826 section between the Black Fell bank head and Springwell bank head was acquired for preservation in 1976 by Tyne and Wear County Council.
Businesses, volunteers and schools which are interested in being involved in the railway projects can contact Graham Hall on 0771 118 4444.