Leamside rail campaign should tap into the passion for the Victoria Viaduct

The news that a mothballed railway line could be reopened, potentially extending the Metro to Washington and beyond, has been met with little more than quiet optimism.

Saturday, 30th January 2021, 6:00 am

The Leamside Line once ran from Pelaw to Durham, via Washington, Penshaw, Fence Houses, Leamside and Rainton.

This provided too much convenience for Dr Richard Beeching to endure. So with all the subtlety of a headbutt, the physicist, who was inexplicably given the job of running Britain’s railways in 1961, soon stopped passenger services along Leamside and many other lines.

It hasn’t been used for freight either since 1991. Meanwhile Washington, with a population nudging 70,000, has no railway station.

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The beautiful Victoria Viaduct should be at the forefront of any campaign to reopen the Leamside Line.

A Newcastle to Ashington line will reopen at a cost of £34million. So why does no one seem too pulsated by the possibility of the same thing happening to Leamside? It has broad cross-party support from MPs, including the Conservative Paul Howell and Labour’s Bridget Phillipson.

One reason is concerns that a revived line would not extend to Fence Houses. Another is that rail minister Chris Heaton-Harris, while not dismissive, doesn’t sound wildly enthusiastic about it either.

But the main reason is simpler still. We’ve heard it all before. Efforts to restore the line have been spoken of for at least 30 years; and never come to fruition.

Any improvement in public transport is welcome. Anything involving railways is always endlessly complicated, so campaigns to restore the Leamside line might need a bit of luck.

The Victoria Viaduct should be at the forefront of any campaign to reopen the Leamside Line.

Personally I think they would do well to play upon emotions more and figuratively nail their colours to the stunning Victoria Viaduct.

This incredible feat of Victorian engineering has stood since 1838 and is as aesthetically pleasing today. The pity is that it hasn’t carried passenger trains in almost 60 years and serves little more than ornamental purposes. You can’t even walk over it now. What a shame.

Those who live nearby smile and shake their heads that some fellow Wearsiders don’t even know it exists, let alone those from further afield, when it deserves to be as famous as Penshaw Monument.

Economic analysis will be most crucial in deciding the line’s future. But the stirring beauty of the Victoria Viaduct should come into play too and its image can’t be overused.

The top of the viaduct as it looks today. The Leamside line has been mothballed since 1961.

It’s mere existence is a great reason to reopen Leamside.

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Victoria Viaduct: One of Wearside's most magnificent and lesser-known landmarks

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The beautiful Victoria Viaduct should be at the forefront of any campaign to reopen the Leamside Line.