Full steam ahead for return of Sunderland coal engine

A unique survivor from Sunderland’s coal mining past is set to return for the first time in more than 40 years.

A steam engine that ushered in nationalisation and spent almost three decades working in the coalfields is coming back to the area to take part in a major steam event this summer.

Lambton No. 60 undergoing test runs after overhaul.

Lambton No. 60 undergoing test runs after overhaul.

Locomotive No. 60 was the first bought new for the huge Lambton railway system near Sunderland after the creation of the National Coal Board.

Based on a standard war-time ‘Austerity’ design, No. 60 was one of a number of locomotives hastily drafted in to keep the vital coal industry moving.

It was one of only a handful of new locomotives specially modified to work trains along the mainline to Sunderland and through a tight tunnel to the River Wear for shipping.

The modifications included a distinctive rounded cab, which makes former Lambton locomotives instantly recognisable.

A powerful reminder of the days when coal, heavy industry and the railways that served them, dominated the region

David Watchman

After the end of steam locomotive working on the former Lambton railway system, No. 60 found use at other collieries in County Durham.

It last worked at Dawdon Colliery, south of Seaham, in 1976 but evaded the scrap man when it was bought by Stephen Wood, a railway enthusiast based in Scotland, becoming the last survivor of its type.

Recently brought back to steam after an extensive overhaul in Northumberland, No. 60 is now set to return to County Durham to star in the Tanfield Railway’s annual steam gala weekend on June 16 and 17.

As well as hauling passenger trains, it will be reunited with a typical County Durham coal train for the first time, including a rare brake van that No. 60 worked alongside in both Sunderland and Seaham.

Lambton No. 60 during its heyday at the Philadelphia sheds near Houghton-le-Spring.

Lambton No. 60 during its heyday at the Philadelphia sheds near Houghton-le-Spring.

Up to five other steam locomotives are expected to feature in the steam gala weekend, making it the biggest event of its type in the North East.

Tanfield Railway director, David Watchman, said: “No. 60 is a rare machine, with an instantly recognisable profile. It was built for power and ease of maintenance at a time when the North East coal industry was vital to the future of the whole country.

“No. 60 and its colleagues would have been a common sight for decades, daily carrying thousands of tons of coal to the River Wear.

“Now it is a powerful reminder of the days when coal, heavy industry and the railways that served them, dominated the region. Bringing No. 60 back to County Durham is a great way for us to celebrate that heritage and educate generations who didn’t experience it first-hand.”

Stephen Wood, who saved No. 60 from scrap, said: “It’ll be great to see No. 60 back in the county where it started out. I’m really looking forward to the visit.”

For details of the Tanfield Railway gala weekend visit www.tanfield-railway.co.uk.