Sunderland rail museum lands £350,000 improvements grant

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MUSEUM bosses are stoked after receiving a second cash windfall.

Bowes Railway bosses have landed a £350,000 National Heritage grant for improvements to the site in Springwell Village.

The good news came just weeks after the museum received £341,500 from Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).

That money will be used to introduce learning and training opportunities as well as a tourist attraction at the Washington railway centre.

Repairs will be made to the 1904 brakeman’s cabin and bait hut and create a viewing platform for visitors.

The railway company also plans to bring in a full-time engineer training manager to implement the training programme.

Attraction leaders say the second cash boost will be used to repair a dilapidated wagon shop built in 1826 by railway pioneer George Stephenson, born in Northumberland.

The double cash boost comes as the site’s general manager, John Young, revealed worn-out tracks at a level crossing in Springwell Road have been repaired, enabling trains to go across them full steam ahead.

The damage means that no trains have run at the site, the world’s only operational preserved standard-gauge rope-hauled railway, for the last 18 months.

Now Mr Young expects to fire up the first steam engine ride since 2011 on Sunday, March 3.

He said: “This is really good news, and it makes our future much better.

“It’s great that a very historic shed will be repaired.

“It’s very kind of English Heritage. They support us very well.

“I’ve worked here for 16 years, and I’ve wanted this to happen all that time.”

Despite the cash influx, Mr Young, 50, says the centre’s future is still not secure.

“People should not look at this money and think that we are safe. We’re not,” he said.

“We need about £30,000 a year, but we don’t get a lot of financial support.

More cash for work on the level crossing has now been donated after a railway magazine highlighted its plight.

Mr Young was also given £10,000 by a London-based railway enthusiast, as well as contributions from other donors.

At the time of the HLF donation Graham Hall, vice-chairman of the Bowes Railway Company and former Sunderland councillor, said: “This HLF grant is pivotal in maximising the use of the site and making it an even more attractive venue for visitors.

“Our proposed new museum activities along with outreach and educational work will be priority.”

Washington and Sunderland West MP Sharon Hodgson said she was “thrilled” with the investment.

She said: “This is an enormous opportunity to bring tourism to our area, as well as giving important skills and learning experiences to all those interested in promoting the railway’s past and in the development of its future.”

Twitter: @Monica_Turnbull