Milestone anniversary for historical railway

Historical re-enactors join Geoff Woodward of Tyne and Wear Museums, Mayor Norma Redfearn and Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, to cut special cakes marking 175 years of the local passenger railway. Picture by Craig Leng
Historical re-enactors join Geoff Woodward of Tyne and Wear Museums, Mayor Norma Redfearn and Bernard Garner, director general of Nexus, to cut special cakes marking 175 years of the local passenger railway. Picture by Craig Leng

The world’s first and oldest metropolitan railway has marked its 175th anniversary.

The Newcastle and North Shields Railway began operating in June 1839 from the station still being used by the Metro in the town centre.

To mark the occasion, North Tyneside Mayor Norma Redfearn unveiled a plaque commemorating the milestone in early railway history.

Heritage steam trains also ran for the day from Percy Main Metro station to the nearby Stephenson Railway Museum, where there was a special display.

Various events were organised in partnership between Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums and Nexus, which owns and manages the Metro.

Huw Lewis, head of communications at Nexus, said: “This was the earliest railway built first and foremost to carry people from emerging suburbs to the centre of a city – what we recognise now as a Metro system.

“North east England led the way in the development of the early railways and we are delighted to have marked this anniversary with events that inspired local people of all ages.”

Geoff Woodward, manager of Stephenson Railway Museum, said: “The atmosphere at the museum and on the heritage railway was very special.

“To travel by steam train is a wonderful experience.

“The sounds and smells are like no other and on this anniversary it will be particularly exciting.”

Hundreds of people enjoyed the day at the museum in Middle Engine Lane, which has free entry and contains a wealth of north east railway history, including ‘Billy’ one of the oldest locomotives in the world and a forerunner to George Stephenson’s Rocket.

Many of the visitors took the chance to board a steam train at the little-used museum platform at Percy Main, a short walk from the Metro platforms, for the journey to the main site.

The Newcastle and North Shields Railway ran from a terminus in Carliol Square in the city centre and North Shields when it first opened.

Today’s Metro trains still use part of that same line between Chillingham Road station and North Shields, where the station remains on its original site, making it the oldest purpose-built suburban railway in the world.

Some elements of the original infrastructure, including the stone piers of the Howdon Viaduct over Willington Gut, remain visible today.