Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s by Colin Alexander
I was six years old when the 1960s gave way to the 70s. Man had landed on the Moon the year before, an event I remember watching on our old grainy black and white television. Although steam had ended on British Railways in 1968, my Dad would take me to see any steam ‘special’ that visited Newcastle, and many of the local industrial Tyneside railways still relied on steam power.
In 1970, most of Tyneside was black. Buildings were black, the river was black. There was industry of all kinds lining both banks of the river, stretching from the west of Newcastle and Gateshead almost to the river mouth. Shipyards, power stations, coal staithes, docks, chemical works, warehouses and coking plants competed for river frontage, and in the hinterlands, there were colliery headstocks as far as the eye could see.
By 1990, a complete transformation had taken place. Virtually all traces of all those industries were gone and the smoke-blackened buildings were cleaned up. The steam-age railway with its semi-derelict stations had given way to an electrified main line and a smart new underground Metro.
Anyone who’d left Tyneside in the 1960s and returned for the first time in the 1990s would scarcely have recognised the place; such was the magnitude of the change.
Tyneside Railways: the 1970s and 1980s is intended to illustrate the many changes that took place on the railways and in the North East in general during a tumultuous twenty years both for me, and for Tyneside.
Tyneside was widely acknowledged as being at the epicentre of the birth of the railway. Long before railway mania gripped the rest of Victorian Britain, pioneering engineers on both sides of the Tyne were connecting collieries to the river by primitive wagonways to facilitate the export of coal. Prior to this, it was only economic to extract coal close to navigable water, but the wooden wagonways of the 1700s allowed much more of the coalfield to be exploited. While other areas of industrial Britain were digging canals, the wagonways of Northumberland and Durham would evolve into the ‘iron road’. North-East men like William Hedley, William Chapman, Timothy Hackworth and of course George and Robert Stephenson were instrumental in replacing horse power through the steam revolution that would shrink nations and continents across the world.
While the region always had its glamorous Anglo-Scottish express passenger trains, the railways in the North-East were dominated by freight services, and the North Eastern Railway had a virtual monopoly from the Humber to the Scottish Border on the transport of vast amounts of coal, iron ore, steel, fish and other goods traffic for decades. This traffic continued after 1923 under the London & North Eastern Railway and into the early days of post-war nationalisation in British Railways’ North Eastern Region. That freight traffic was to go into terminal decline through the 1970s and 80s as industries disappeared.
The book includes many locations beyond the obvious Newcastle and Gateshead, visiting the suburbs to the east, the beautiful Tyne Valley to the west, as well as going slightly further afield to locations in the South-East Northumberland coalfield and almost to Wearside.
I have tried to show a wide variety of motive power in the book, including preserved steam and BR diesel traction; steam, diesel and electric-powered industrial locomotives; Tyne & Wear Metro stock and even the ill-fated Advanced Passenger Train makes an unlikely appearance.
Recently, much of the North-East's rich railway heritage has seen a renaissance with some beautifully restored stations and bridges, and the region can boast some of the preservation movement's most precious relics.
Colin Alexander's new book Tyneside Railways: The 1970s and 1980s is available for purchase now.