The Aln Valley Railway is a heritage railway based at Lionheart Station in Alnwick. Its aim is to restore and operate trains on a portion of the former Alnmouth to Alnwick branch line: ‘from Coast to Castle’.
The creation of the A1 Alnwick by-pass road severed the former trackbed on the outskirts of Alnwick. Subsequent commercial development in the town, to the north and west of the A1, has almost eliminated the possibility of the restoration of the line into the still-standing former Alnwick station. The station building is now occupied by a secondhand bookshop, a carpet warehouse and an industrial plant hire store. The former station yard is now occupied by, for example, a supermarket and builders’ supply company.
As a result of these developments it was necessary for the Railway to create a new passenger station, and associated facilities, on the east side of the A1 adjacent to the Lionheart Enterprise Park. This station has been developed with two passenger platforms, a footbridge, a locomotive shed and workshops, a café, a museum, a model railway display, extensive car parking and a children’s play area. In stages the line is being extended towards Alnmouth. Currently (2022) the line of rails has reached Greenrigg, over half way towards Alnmouth. Here, beyond a splendid Robert Stephenson-designed viaduct, a new halt (‘Greenrigg Halt’) has been created with a passenger platform, a loop and a siding in which a carriage can be stabled to provide passenger facilities. This was the first new station in Northumberland to be opened in the 21st century! The platform is accessed via a short path from a local road.
Discussions are taking place regarding the extension of the line beyond Greenrigg towards Alnmouth where there will be exchange facilities with the East Coast Main Line at Alnmouth (for Alnwick) station.
Grants from the Northumberland Estates, the European Union and Northumberland County Council have facilitated the project, as have donations, bequests and the revenue accrued from the Railway’s own commercial and fund-raising activities. There is a footpath and cycleway at the side of the line which provides a safe corridor for pedestrians and cyclists from Alnwick towards the coast and the National Cycle Network.
It was in the winter of 1995 that the Aln Valley Railway started to become a reality. Its first Chairman was Stuart Manley, the proprietor of Alnwick’s bookshop: ‘Barter Books’. The Duke of Northumberland accepted the invitation to become the railways President, with the then local MP, Sir Alan Beith, becoming Vice-President. There were some initial setbacks including the failure of a Heritage Lottery application and the demise of Railtrack, with which body the railway had been conducting negotiations. Also a supermarket was planned for the approaches to the former Alnwick station. However the Committee and members carried on undaunted and the 2007 results of a feasibility study conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University were encouraging. Negotiations with the County Council and Northumberland Estates produced an Agreement that the Railway and the proposed footpath/cycleway could exist side-by-side. Meanwhile rolling stock and some items of equipment were accumulated at the Railway’s engineering base at Longhoughton station yard. A Public Enquiry came down in favour of the reinstatement of the Railway rather than a footpath to occupy the trackbed.
In the summer of 2008 the terms of a Lease were agreed for the trackbed and part of ‘Lloyd’s Field’ where Lionheart station would be created. In the summer of 2010 the County Council Planning Committee finally approved the Railway’s Planning Application. The Lease Document between the Railway and the Northumberland Estates was signed in February 2012. Construction of the Railway could now commence, over sixteen years since the first meetings!
The next ten years saw the gradual extension of the track, the accumulation of locomotives and rolling stock, the running of steam and diesel trains for the public and the development of visitor facilities. The line received various railway and tourism awards and became much more widely known. It received offers from owners who wished to bring their locomotives or rolling stock to the line. The line also attracted attention from film companies with such ‘stars’ as Robson Green, Julie Walters, Chris Tarrant and Michael Portillo being filmed at the railway.
Trains now run to a published timetable and special events are held: 1940s weekend, a Model Railway Exhibition, a Summer Fair, post-Christmas Mince Pie Specials and a Classic vehicles Show. In addition, for the younger visitor, there are several weekends of ‘Santa Specials’ plus Halloween and Teddy Bears’ Picnic weekends. The line is now a destination for rail-tours from various parts of the country.
If discussions and further fund-raising progress satisfactorily then the AVR can look forward to extending its rails from Greenrigg towards Alnmouth, and passenger interchange with the main line railway network. Further plans exist to build a new museum building and construct a miniature railway on the Lionheart site. When funds permit a replica North Eastern Railway station building will be built to grace number 1 platform, together with a new carriage shed and further repair and restoration facilities.
Further information, including details of operating days, timetables, visits for school parties, facilities, membership, or how to become a volunteer, can be obtained from the railway’s website:
Photographic credits: The photographs used in this item were taken by Pat Murphy, Mel Clarke and Roger Jermy