While the British Rail branch line from Haltwhistle to Alston was a vital link, particularly during harsh winters, its future at the time of the 1960s “Beeching cuts” seemed bleak. Although granted a reprieve, the line was finally scheduled for closure subject to the provision of an improved road link between Alston and Haltwhistle.
The new “all weather” road was completed in May 1976 and the Alston branch line was to be closed on the 3rd May. As this was a Monday, the last trains were to run on Saturday 1st May and preparations were made for the vast influx of last day travellers as the fateful day approached.
The Last Day
Saturday 1st May 1976 was a sombre wet day, but the weather did not deter an estimated 5,000 people from coming to ride on the last scheduled passenger services, filling the normal trains to capacity while hundreds of others travelled in special trains such as “The Alston Farewell” from Newcastle (organised by the Stephenson Locomotive Society) and one connecting from Carlisle for Border Round Table members. Alston station was decorated with flags and bunting, refreshments were served and ‘70s disco music played. When, at 9.09pm, the time came for the last train to commence its melancholy journey, two pipers playing a lament and a barrage of detonators echoed round the town as it accelerated into the night.
Steven Dyke, one of the original South Tynedale Preservation Society members, recalls:
“During the day, a mock coffin had been placed on the platform at Coanwood and it was carried onto the
At Slaggyford the small steam loco bought for the preservation project was steamed up and whistling a forlorn farewell from its isolated few yards of track. Other stations bore wreaths and messages on the platforms as the train returned slowly down the valley.
At Lambley I watched a lady hand over a large box of eggs to the train guard – a thank you for good customer service, or an unofficial delivery to someone further down the line?
South Tynedale Railway will be marking the 40th anniversary of this day with bunting on the platform, a piper, disco music, refreshments, a 70s-themed quiz and a display with oral recollections in the new Discovery Centre. Unfortunately we will not be repeating the exploding of detonators on the line as this is deemed unsuitable for use with our locos and stock! Trains will be operating to the normal timetable – for this and further information please visit www.south-tynedale-railway.org.uk
Do you remember …?
Where you on one of the last trains or in the area at the time of the closure of the Alston branch line? If so, and you would like to be involved, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch with Kim Holden at South Tynedale Railway, 01434 338212 / [email protected]