Future Secured for Weardale’s Heritage Railway
A Major Ambition to Reinstate the Historic Train Service
From Darlington to Weardale is launched
North East charity, The Auckland Project, has launched a campaign to reinstate the western section of the historic Stockton to Darlington Railway, which will celebrate its 200th anniversary as the first passenger service in 2025.
The first phase of this ambitious project has been concluded with the purchase of the Weardale Railway, which stretches from Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham westwards for nearly 20 miles into the heart of Weardale.
The heritage railway, built in 1847, has been bought out of administration, securing its future and unlocking the potential for reinvigorating the regional tourism economy and reinstating connectivity between rural communities and urban economic hubs.
The Auckland Project is a regeneration charity which for the last nine years has sought to create opportunities and drive investment into Bishop Auckland and the surrounding area. It believes that the purchase of Weardale Railway will be a further catalyst for change and consolidate its investment to date of £200m in the region.
The Auckland Project has no experience of running trains and to deliver a full service from Darlington westwards it will require a partnership with a Train Operating Company. This consortium could lead the way in demonstrating that the ‘Beeching Cut’ in the UK railway service could soon be reversed and potentially be the first of many such enterprises up and down the country.
The Project will work with Durham County Council and will continue to call on the essential expertise provided by the staff of the former Weardale Railway Community Interest Company and volunteers of the Weardale Railway Trust, who operated the Summer heritage
service on behalf of its previous US owner. Together with new potential partners such as, the Science Museum Group’s National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion museum in Shildon, whose history of passenger railways goes back to the pioneering Stockton and Darlington Railway, a new era for the railway will be born.
At a time when the Darlington to Bishop Auckland train franchise is about to become available and investment in the North East transport infrastructure has been named as a priority for the current Government, this project is consistent with their declared intent. The Auckland Project has already received warm support from many of the Members of Parliament representing constituencies on the rail route.
This development also follows the recent announcement of proposals to create a Rail Heritage Quarter in Darlington. In 2019, the Tees Valley Combined Authority signed off £20m towards the first phase of these regeneration works. And a bid by the Combined Authority for funding a £100m overhaul and transformation of Darlington Railway Station was approved as part of the Budget this week.
The Auckland Project is committed to bringing about real and long-term change to County Durham. To date, this has come to fruition through the development of Bishop Auckland as a visitor destination, currently comprising the open air, live action spectacular Kynren – an epic tale of England, the recently re-opened Auckland Castle and Deer Park, the UK’s first Mining Art Gallery and Auckland Tower welcome centre.
Work is also underway to create a new Faith Museum, Spanish Gallery and Walled Garden, further enhancing the destination’s national and international appeal and expanding the charity’s ongoing commitment to delivering an extensive community and education programme alongside skills development and training through apprenticeships and volunteering. This will include the creation of 50 new roles within Weardale Railway Ltd, increasing the total number of opportunities across the charity to in excess of 1300.
David Maddan, CEO of The Auckland Project, said: “The North East’s magnificent industrial heritage offers a unique opportunity for change. By linking with other major transport infrastructure projects and working with partners, including the dedicated team at the Weardale Railway Trust, we can ensure an immediate impact is felt right across the Tees Valley and throughout County Durham.”
Jonathan Ruffer, Founder of The Auckland Project added: “This is the latest initiative to restore vibrancy to the region, giving visitors a wide range of experiences around the Castle at Auckland, the Kynren nightshow, the Spanish and Mining Art Galleries – something for everyone. And soon they’ll be able easily to arrive by train!” Kevin Richardson, Chair Weardale Railway Trust, added: “We at Weardale Railway Trust were initially disappointed when the previous owners announced the decision to offer Weardale Railway for sale. We had enjoyed a successful relationship, which has been beneficial to both parties. However, the arrangement had not been without its difficulties, particularly given the six-hour time difference between Chicago and the UK. We were delighted, therefore, to learn that The Auckland Project had taken over ownership of the railway. To bring the line back into local ownership will, we feel, be a major positive step. We believe that doing so will encourage local people to join us in preserving this important part of our local heritage. “We have followed the progress of The Auckland Project with great interest. Here we have an organisation, which has already proven at Bishop Auckland what commitment and vision can achieve. Their aspirations for the railway going forward are very impressive and we look forward to working with them to take the Weardale Railway into the next chapter of its fascinating history.”
For more information please contact Claire Morrell, Head of PR, The Auckland Project on 01388 600 529 or
About the purchase of Weardale Railway
David Willis and Martyn Pullin of FRP, were appointed as Joint Administrators to Weardale Railway CIC and secured the sale of the business and assets of that company.
BARS was the controlling member of the Weardale Railway Community Interest Company from 2008 but its major shareholder, Iowa Pacific Holdings, entered insolvency in the US last year, leading to funding difficulties. This ultimately resulted in business advisory firm FRP being appointed to manage an accelerated sale process for BARS’ subsidiaries, including Weardale Railway.
David Willis, partner at FRP, said: “We’re delighted to have been able to secure the sale of the Weardale Railway, allowing this unique heritage railway to continue to operate. We would like to thank the employees for all their support in recent weeks and wish The Auckland Project every success in the future.”
Overseeing the transaction from a legal perspective was Swinburne Maddison LLP’s Martyn Tennant, Partner and Head of the Corporate and Commercial Team. He said:
“Our priority was to ensure that the client was supported throughout a challenging process and that we were able to deliver the best outcome, whilst being mindful of other influencing stakeholders.
“We were able to apply a detailed and highly creative solution on the acquisition of the Weardale Railway with the support from FRP. We wish The Auckland Project every success with the project.”
About Weardale Railway Trust
Weardale Railway Trust was incorporated in July 1996. Its mission statement is to assist any owner of the line to preserve what it believes is an important piece of Britain’s railway history.
Since 2014 the trust has operated the summer heritage service on the line.
In 2016 Trust volunteers, in conjunction with local residents, reopened the station at Witton-le-Wear – the first time in 63 years that the village has been served by a regular passenger service.
The service was subsequently extended to Bishop Auckland and became the only public transport serving Weardale on a Sunday.
Weardale Trust currently has a membership of around 430, with around 50 active volunteers working in various roles, including train driving, guard, crossing keeper, ticket inspector, track clearance, gardener, shop assistant, engineering and building maintenance.
All train crew volunteers undergo rigorous training to run the passenger services and special events on the Weardale Railway.
About The Auckland Project:
The Auckland Project is working to create positive change for those living, working and visiting Bishop Auckland and to ensure the town’s future is as magnificent and vibrant as its past.
To do so we are creating a visitor destination in Bishop Auckland, incorporating Auckland Castle (once home to the Prince Bishops of Durham), a Spanish Gallery, Faith Museum, Walled Garden, Deer Park, Mining Art Gallery, Auckland Tower visitor centre and an outdoor spectacular Kynren – an epic tale of England, is also performed every summer on a 7.5-acre stage.
Kynren launched in 2016, followed by the Mining Art Gallery, in October 2017 and Auckland Tower in October 2018. Bishop Trevor Gallery, a temporary exhibition space within Auckland Castle, opened in June 2019, with the Castle re-opening to the public on 2 November 2019 following a three-year conservation programme. The other attractions will follow in stages in the years ahead.
Alongside the visitor destination, The Auckland Project regeneration charity is also working directly with the local community to deliver a wide range of formal and informal learning for adults and young people, create jobs and apprenticeships both directly and via our supply chain, support sustainable living, including community-supported agriculture and the Incredible Edible scheme and promote general health and wellbeing.
To date approaching £200m has been committed to achieving the project’s long-term ambition, with support from a wide range of organisations, charitable trusts and individuals, including The National Lottery Heritage Fund. Visitors to the destination will also play a crucial part in helping bring it to life.
For more information about The Auckland Project, please visit aucklandproject.org or search Auckland Project on Facebook and Twitter.
The Auckland Project’s sister charity, Eleven Arches, runs open air spectacular Kynren – an epic tale of England.
Unique in the UK, this world-class performance takes place on a 7-and-a-half-acre outdoor stage and is set against the magnificent backdrop of Auckland Castle.
Be swept along by this award-winning, family-friendly tale of invasions, royal splendour, wars, heroic sacrifice, daily life and seismic change and watch legends come to life in a thrilling tale told on an epic scale - 2,000 years in the making.
New for 2020, the Park is an exciting new development at Kynren, offering visitors an action-packed afternoon including an electrifying Horse Stunt Show, immersive family attractions and all-new dining experiences.
Named in TripAdvisor's "Top 5 performances to see in the UK", The Park and Kynren take place every Saturday from 1 August to 12 September 2020 and is supported by a cast and crew of around 1,000 volunteers.
For more information, or to book visit or call 0333 300 3028. For media enquiries about the show please contact Amanda