Other Links


Though Durham is nowadays a busy stopping place on the East Coast main line and a railhead for a wide area, it was formerly the hub of an extensive network of secondary routes, handling a great deal of coal traffic as well as passengers. As well as the main line, there were two routes to Sunderland and one to Bishop Auckland, while branches penetrated the Dearness and Lanchester Valleys, the latter serving the steel-making centre of Consett. These have all gone, the last of them during the 'Beeching' closures of the nineteen-sixties.

The first public railway to serve the City of Durham was the Durham & Sunderland Railway, which opened from Sunderland as far as Haswell in 1836. The promoters originally intended to complete the line to a depot in Gilesgate, in the NE part of the city, but dropped this idea and took the route instead to a depot at Shincliffe, over a mile SE of the city, opened in June 1839, Shincliffe remained the terminus for passenger services from Sunderland via Ryhope and Murton until 1893, when the route was diverted to Durham Elvet station.

The former Durham & Sunderland Railway Shincliffe depot seen in the 1960s, when it was serving as a council highways depot. Tracks ran above the level of the arches. It has since been converted into a private house.

The next railway to appear was George Hudson's Newcastle & Darlington Junction Railway, completed in 1844. This formed a key element in the East Coast route from London to Edinburgh but passed two miles east of the city, which was served by a short branch from Belmont Junction to a terminus near Gilesgate. This served as the city's passenger station for just thirteen years, being superseded by the present station in April 1857. Thereafter, Durham Gilesgate station was given over wholly to goods traffic, a role it continued to perform until November 1966; it has since been adapted as a hotel.

To start with, the present Durham station was not situated on the main line either. Instead, it was served by a branch leaving the 1844 main line at Leamside and running through to Bishop Auckland. This line was built by the NER to compete with the S&D for the Auckland coal trade, and opened to freight in August 1856 and passengers in April 1857. From the outset, however, the NER Engineer, Thomas Elliot Harrison, aimed to build connecting lines to incorporate it into a more direct main-line route. The first of these, from Durham to Gateshead via Chester le Street and the Team Valley, opened in December 1868 while the southern link, from Durham to Tursdale Junction on the 1844 main line, opened in January 1872. An impressive feature of the 1856 line is Durham Viaduct, from which the view of the cathedral is one of the most memorable sights on Britain's railways; its less familiar cousins, Brasside Viaduct and Newton Cap Viaduct, both over the River Wear, are well worth a visit.

Brasside Viaduct was designed by Thomas Elliot Harrison and opened to goods and mineral traffic in August 1856, with passenger trains beginning on 1 April 1857. It is built of sandstone with brick arches faced by stone voussoirs. The whole line was built by the Tyneside contractor Richard Cail (1812-93). Passenger services ceased in May 1964 and freight soon after. No alternative use has been found  whereas Newton Cap, at Bishop Auckland, has been adapted for road traffic.

The last station to appear on the scene was Durham Elvet, opened in July 1893 and served by a line which left the original Durham & Sunderland Railway route at Sherburn House, crossing the Wear to a terminus close to the racecourse. The route to Shincliffe was then abandoned and by 1912 Elvet was handling up to nine trains each way daily. Racing nearby had ceased before Elvet station opened but from 1872 the 'racecourse' became the venue for the annual Durham Miners Gala, which brought much excursion business to the station. Regular passenger trains to Sunderland ran until the end of 1930, and excursion traffic ceased in 1953; Elvet was demolished a decade later.







© W. Fawcett, 2011