Leamside line

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The Leamside Line is a railway line in the North East of England, branching off from the main East Coast Main Line (ECML) at Tursdale Junction in County Durham, and continuing north through Sunderland, Washington and Wardley, finally joining the Newcastle to Sunderland line at Pelaw Junction.

It is currently mostly out of use, having been 'mothballed' by British Rail in 1991 after the closure of the Freightliner freight terminal at Follingsby, near Washington, which was the recipient of most of the line's traffic in its last years. A very short section of the line from Pelaw Junction remains in operation today, serving the open-cast coal mine at Wardley.



The line opened in 1839, and was formed from the original lines of the Newcastle and Darlington Junction Railway and the Durham Junction Railway. It constituted part of the original East Coast Main Line route from Edinburgh to London, eventually being incorporated into the North Eastern Railway. The line's main source of revenue, as with most of the early railways, was mineral traffic, principally coal from the Durham coalfield. The line was linked to many private colliery branch lines and wagonways.

The main engineering feature of the line was the Victoria Viaduct over the River Wear in Washington, based on a Roman bridge in Alcantara in Spain.

It remained part of the main line until 1872 when the route was bypassed by the NER's Bishop Auckland to Gateshead line, which became part of the ECML and remains so to this day.

Thereafter it continued to carry local passenger services and freight traffic, as well as serving as a useful diversionary route from the ECML, until the passenger service was withdrawn in the 1960's during the infamous Beeching cuts. However, coal and other freight continued to be carried, until the gradual closure of the Durham coalfield in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in a severe drop in the line's traffic and in 1991 the line was mothballed.

Passenger Stations

  • Leamside
  • Belmont
  • Sherburn
  • Shincliffe
  • Ferryhill
  • Bradbury
  • Aycliffe

The Line Today

After mothballing, the double track was reduced to a single line in some places, and the track was severed at some level crossings along the line. All its engineering features remain intact.

Part of the Durham to Sunderland line that left the Leamside Line just south of the Victora Viaduct has been brought back into use (2002) for the Sunderland Extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro, ending at South Hylton, around a mile from the former junction with the Leamside Line. Some have suggested that the Metro could be extended along this line and up the northern section of the Leamside Line, creating a loop that would serve the new town of Washington and return to Pelaw Junction, where the Sunderland Metro line begins.

Around one mile of track to the south of Penshaw was 'stolen' in 2003[1] and will have to be replaced if the line is finally reopened. This theft, estimated to have cost more than £1 million, is thought to have taken place late at night over many months, with the track and sleepers sold for scrap.

Future Plans

On 4 December 2006, Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Authority announced that it had commissioned a study into the future use of the line, with a view to possible re-opening as a suburban railway linking into the local transport network[2]. The line would also be used as an over-spill for freight on the ECML, while also carrying services between Newcastle and Teesside The next day, it was announced that Network Rail had also signed up to the study, although current plans for removal of the track (see below) would still proceed.[3]

The line had been briefly considered in 2000 for reopening by Railtrack as a diversionary freight route to take the burden from the congested ECML. A number of studies have advocated re-opening the line, for example The vision for passenger rail services in the Tees Valley. Re-opening the line would provide economic benefits to areas depressed since the demise of the coal mining industry. However, these plans were put on hold.

Durham County Council's Local Transport Plan (LTP)[4] indicates that the Council supports passenger traffic return to the Leamside Line, and would promote the service. See Railwatch for more details.

If the Leamside line is opened to passenger traffic, it would lead to the reopening of several railway stations along the route. The Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions has expressed concern at the delays in determining the future of this line.[5]

Track removal

On 14 September 2006, Network Rail announced plans to lift the track along the full length of the line. It is maintained that the track, after 15 years out of use, would need replacing anyway if the line was ever to re-open, and that this move will have no implications for any future use of the railway. The company also pledged that all bridges would be left in place, with no sales of land attached to the line.[6] A former British Rail engineer, who oversaw a major upgrade of the line just two years before its closure, has countered Network Rail's claims, saying that the track is still in excellent condition and would need only minimal refurbishment to bring it back into use.[7]

Some sections of the line from the south of Sunderland and Pelaw, however, appear to be in quite a poor state. The iron rails appear sound, but the majority of sleepers are wooden and are rotten or distintegrating. Some short sections have concrete sleepers and the line here appears sound. Embanked areas are subsiding in a few places with the aggregate ballast seeming to have been washed away. There is no signalling or fencing at all remaining and in some areas over growth of shrubs and trees is taking over. It certainly appears that some significant work would need to be done to make use of the existing track, certainly replacing the rotten wooden sleepers.


  1. "Jail sentence for rail track thief". BBC News Online (2003-05-20). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  2. "Study to look at case for Leamside rail reopening". Transport Briefing (2006-12-05). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  3. "Hopes raised that rail line will re-open". The Northern Echo (2006-12-06). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  4. "LTP Daughter Strategies 2006-2011" (2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  5. (2002) "Memorandum by Railfuture (NT 43)". Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions: Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence (Appendix 6) Session 2001-02. Retrieved on 2006-12-10. 
  6. "Rail line's return journey derailed". Newcastle Journal (Sep 15 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.
  7. "Engineer urges re-think over line". The Northern Echo (11:01am Saturday 28th October 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-10.

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