(A1 SLT Images)
The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, the registered charity behind famous new 100mph steam locomotive No. 60163 Tornado and Britain’s most powerful steam locomotive No. 2007 Prince of Wales, is delighted to announce plans for a new multi-million-pound main line connected base in Darlington. If its fundraising attempts are successful, the new site will be operational in time to play a central role in the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.
Whessoe Road Track Layout & 1861 Shed.(A1SLT Images)
At the heart of the new base will be the four-track Whessoe Road engine shed which was built by the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1861. Designed by William Peachey, it was one of the S&DR’s last developments before the company was absorbed by the North Eastern Railway in 1863. The shed went on to serve as a wagon repair and paint shop, before falling into disuse in the late 20th Century. Thought to be one of the oldest surviving engine sheds in the world, it will require major roof repairs and other remedial works before it can again house live steam locomotives.
The Trust also plans to build a purpose built, three-road workshop, complete with overhead cranes and educational facilities, where it can maintain and overhaul its locomotive and carriage fleet, as well as build additional locomotives, such as its planned third new steam locomotive, Gresley class V4 No. 3403. Other planned features of the new ‘Darlington Locomotive Works’ include a 70-foot diameter turntable and a carriage shed to house the Trust’s proposed BR mark 3 carriage-based charter train.
The site can be easily and relatively cheaply reconnected to the national network as there is already a fully signalled connection into a rarely used siding in the former yard at Whessoe Road, sited west of Network Rail’s North Road station on the line from Darlington to Bishop Auckland.
A key priority for the Trust is that the site is made publicly accessible on regular advertised open days. It has also identified a quarter to one-third of a mile long running line which could be used for limited steam-hauled passenger rides, running parallel to the Bishop Auckland branch, as well as its more important role as a basic test-bed for the Trusts new and overhauled locomotives. The site also has potential as an operational base should an idea from Darlington Borough Council to run steam hauled shuttle services between Darlington and Bishop Auckland come to fruition.
The land adjacent to the engine shed is currently used by a vehicle component recovery business and all the relevant land is owned by Network Rail. Encouraging discussions have been held with the tenant and Darlington Borough Council has already identified an alternative site for the operation to relocate to. The Trust has appointed Darlington-based lifelong railwayman Paul Bruce as its Whessoe Road project director.
Graeme Bunker-James, Trustee and Operations Director, The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust, commented:
“Our long-awaited new base will be somewhere that both Tornado and Prince of Wales can truly call ‘home’. We hope that we will be able to operate the world’s newest steam locomotives from the world’s oldest active main line engine shed – a true ‘Top Shed’ of the north!
“The intention is to open the Whessoe Road site as an operational base for the Trust soon after we complete the construction of Gresley class P2 No. 2007 Prince of Wales, which is scheduled for 2021/22 – and in good time to play a central role in the celebrations marking the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 2025.”
The Trust has already held positive talks with Network Rail about the site and been visited by both its Chairman Sir Peter Hendy and Chief Engineer Jon Shaw. The Trust is also working with local stakeholders, including Darlington Borough Council, Ben Houchen (Mayor of the Tees Valley Combined Authority) and Jenny Chapman MP (Darlington) to explore funding options.
A consequence of the proposal is that the Trust will vacate the former S&DR carriage works on Hopetown Lane – just 100 yards south of Whessoe Road – that it has occupied for the past 20 years.