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How it all began

The Stockton to Darlington Railway was built by the private sector, to to ease traffic congestion between the cities of Stockton and Darlington. The railway itself was also intended to generate business for local farmers and employers in the county, as well as providing an alternative transport route for farmers in the hills above the towns.

The railway was part of a broader strategy to grow industrialisation in northern England, a region that had been dominated by textiles since the 19th Century. The SDR began construction in 1847 and it opened on 1st June 1857. However, it was not until 1870 that passenger services were extended beyond Darlington station, with trains heading north through Towside towards Marske-by-the-Sea from there on 10th April 1870.

The line was initially single track with passing loops at intermediate stations but this soon became inadequate and double tracking commenced between Towside and Marske by 1894. At the same time, a new line from Hetton Colliery reached Swillingley Junction where it joined with another branch line that ran south from Hetton colliery for a short distance before terminating just past Elvet Bridge station. This final link spanned 10 miles and cost £8,000 - a huge sum back then!

History of the Darlington to Stockton Railway

The SDR opened its line between Towside and Marske-by-the-Sea in 1870, though its origins date back to the mid-18th Century, when local landowners began to discuss the possibility of building a canal between the river Wear at Sunderland and the river Tees at Stockton. This would have linked the two major ports of the North-East and given the region direct access to international trade.

However, this project was ultimately abandoned for the time being. After the construction of the SDR, the Darlington to Stockton Railway emerged as one of the top priorities for the region’s industrialists.

The line opened between Towside and Marske-by-the-Sea on 1st June 1857 and its construction was supported by the Darlington and Stockton Railway company, and it was was financed by a consortium of investors who were interested in the transport of coal from the mines at the south coast ports to the north. The SDR quickly proved to be a success and by the time the line was extended north to Darlington in 1864, traffic on the line had increased tenfold from the original projections.

However, the line did not achieve the same levels of success as it had in the north of England. The line made a profit for the first time in 1866, but the return level for the following three years was gradually reduced.

The line was eventually closed between Darlington and Towside on 31st May 1969. However, the route from Towside to Darlington through Marske-by-the-Sea remains in use, now operated by Transdev, who run a number of passenger trains along this section of line daily.

Opening of the Darlington to Stockton Railway

The SDR opened between Towside and Marske-by-the-Sea on 1st June 1857. The railway was then extended to York in 1865, but this extension was built by the York and North Midland Railway company and was only operated by that railway. The SDR, however, continued to operate the line to York, which involved the construction of several tunnels and bridges in the county to connect with the Great North Road and the River Ouse.

The SDR also built a number of stations on the line during construction, including Towside, which opened in 1859, Swillingley, which opened in 1858 and Marske, which opened in 1859.

The line continued to make a profit after opening, and by the end of the 1860s, it was still profitable. However, by the early 1870s, the line began to fall into deficit, with the company reporting that it had lost £90,000 since opening.

The SDR was acquired by the North Eastern Railway in July 1874. The NER then returned to the problem of the SDR’s deficit and managed to reduce it to £70,000 in a year. This improvement was short-lived, however, and the SDR began to show deficits again in 1875.

The Route

The line opened on 1st June 1857, after four years of construction. It was initially just 617 yards in length, with an additional 77 yards opened in 1870.

It was initially intended that the line would run from a station near Darlington's Market Place, cross the River Wear by the South Bridge and continue towards Towside. However, the construction of a new bridge a few yards upstream meant that the route now ran beside the river - initially right beside it. As a result, the railway now had to change its route to cross the river at Towside. This required a new bridge. This new route enabled the SDR to pass through Towside, thus avoiding the centre of Darlington.

However, the route now ran along the river bank rather than the river itself, which caused some concern. Indeed, the route was changed again in 1878 so that the railway now ran through the middle of Towside, although this change was reversed a short time later.

From the outset, the SDR was intended for freight traffic only. Passenger services would begin only once traffic volumes had started to increase. Indeed, for many years there were no passenger services on the SDR at all.

In 1862, however, the Stockton to Darlington Railway was extended from Towside to Marske-by-the-Sea to the west, so that northbound trains could now pass through Towside without having to reverse. This extension was funded by the private sector and was undertaken by the North Eastern Railway. At the time, the NER owned the SDR and the two companies were partners. In 1869, the Stockton & Darlington Railway was extended once again, this time to Hetton, at an additional cost of £8,000. The new route ran through the Hetton Colliery and skirted the edge of Hetton Park before heading through a new bridge across the River Sker to reach Hetton Junction a few miles to the south of Hetton. At first, the SDR did not connect to the NER at Hetton. Instead, the two companies worked together with the SDR pushing coal down to the Hetton colliery and receiving back the pay-in coins that were the only form of payment at the time.

However, the NER wished to extend the line to join with the SDR further south near Elvet Bridge. This would enable it to connect with the Eryholme branch of the Stockton & Teesside Railway, which ran from Felton to Glenfield and which was also part of the NER. Elvet Bridge was a hamlet 8 miles to the south of Towside, and there was a bridge there that the SDR would need to cross in order to reach Elvet. The NER therefore applied to Parliament in 1877 for permission to build an extension to Hetton. However, permission was not granted, as the SDR would still need to be extended to Elvet Bridge, and that would cost £15,000. Instead, in 1878 the SDR was extended to Marske-by-the-Sea, with a new route that skirted the edge of Towside and then ran past the edge of Elvet Bridge.

In 1896, a new line was built between Hetton Junction and Swillingley Junction, near Towside. This was also part of an extension to Elvet Bridge.

Double tracking between Towside and Marske-by-the Sea

The SDR’s financial problems were compounded by the need to double track its line between Towside and Marske-by-the Sea. At the time, the SDR was the only railway in the country to be single tracked. The double tracking was a major project, taking nearly five years to complete.

Completion of the work was delayed, however, by the discovery of a major fault beneath the Towside station area. This hrequired extensive work to fix before work could continue.

It was opened for goods traffic on 10th April 1870, and for passengers on 1st June 1870. After the completion of the double tracking, the SDR was able to report financial success for the first time since the line’s opening in 1857. The double tracking project, however, took an even greater toll on the company. The SDR was unable to make a profit from the 1870s onwards and went into administration in 1877. The company was re-formed and the line reopened in 1878 as the Stockton and Darlington Railway, a subsidiary of the North Eastern Railway.

Hetton Colliery to Swillingley Junction Branch Line

In 1857, the SDR opened a branch line from Hetton colliery to Swillingley junction. The branch line ran just south of the Hetton & District Railway, which had been built in 1854, and it linked with the H&DR at Swillingley junction. For the first few years, the branch was single tracked, but in 1875, double track was constructed between Swillingley and Hetton.

The branch was not a major revenue earner for the company and it was closed in 1944. The line was never a part of the SDR network and it only connected to the SDR at Swillingley junction. It was operated by the H&DR, who leased the branch from the SDR. The branch had never been a priority for the SDR and it only came into being after the H&DR had opened, and the SDR decided that a railway connection to the H&DR would be a good idea.

Elvet Bridge to Marske By The Sea Branch Line

The SDR opened its branch line from Elvet Bridge to Marske-by-the Sea on 1st July 1859. The branch was single tracked, but it was soon double tracked for much of its length. The branch provided a direct link between the SDR and the H&DR and it also served several collieries, including Hetton, Swillingley and Marske-by-the-Sea.

The branch was profitable from the start.

Marske By The Sea to Towside Branch Line

The final branch to be built by the SDR was the Marske-by-the-Sea branch, which was built in 1859. This branch ran from Marske-by-the-Sea to Towside and it was never part of the SDR network. It was built as a standard gauge single track line and it was built for standard gauge only to prevent the delays that occurred whenever the H&DR had to change gauge.

From the outset, the SDR was intended for freight traffic only. Passenger trains did not run on the line until 1865, although they were limited in their use and did not run on Sundays. The locomotives used on the line were initially of the 0-4-0 wheeled type, although larger 0-6-0 and 0-8-0 types were later introduced. They were all built by Kitson & Co. of Leeds. The TDR, meanwhile, was completed in 1847 as a private company railway, although it did receive some backing from the Government (at least in the form of free land grants to the owners of the various industrial centres served by the railway). The line was initially built by the Stockton & Darlington Railway, although in 1857 the SDR purchased the TDR and absorbed it into its network. The TDR originally ran from West Auckland Colliery, close to Hartlepool, to Darlington. However, in 1857 the line was extended to a new terminus at Ferryhill, close to Newcastle-upon-Tyne. At this time, the line was double-tracked and was operated by the Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway, itself a joint venture between the TDR and the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway. In 1861, the TDR was extended to a new terminus at Towside, less than a mile from Darlington. However, the line was soon extended to Marske-by-the-Sea and a new terminus was built at Marske. At this time, the line was also double-tracked and was operated by the North Eastern Railway, although it was now a mixed traffic route, carrying both passengers and mineral traffic.

The past and future

The steam Era in the SDR began with the opening of the line from Darlington to Swillingley Junction. The line was built by the SDR and opened in 1896. The new line was also built by the SDR and opened in the same year. It was built at the same time as the Hetton-to-Swillingley-Junction line, to connect with the latter. The Hetton-to-Swillingley-Junction line was constructed by the TDR and opened in 1896. The new line was built by the TDR and opened in 1893. Both these lines were built in the new double-track style, which became the standard and standard throughout the country. The present day state of play, however, is a very different one to that of 1896, when the tracks were new and the locomotives shiny and new, the stations freshly painted and the villages freshly built. Nowadays, the SDR is a much-neglected and weed-infested relic of the past, and the line is threatened by closure by Network Rail who have recommended that the line be closed permanently.