South Pelaw Junction was a vital junction on the Tyne Dock to Consett line with connections to the East Coast Main Line at Ouston Junction, Tyne Dock via Washington as well as local collieries. The line fully opened to steam locomotive hauled goods trains in November 1893 (prior to that, part of the line relied on self-acting inclines) and to passenger trains in February 1894.
At South Pelaw Junction, loaded iron ore trains from Tyne Dock (which, from 1954 made use of dedicated wagons and a new loading facility) would stop for the addition of a banker locomotive to assist with the climb up the heavy gradients towards Consett Steelworks, the bankers helping out typically as far as Annfield Plain after which the gradients eased. In the latter days of steam these trains were hauled by the huge 9F 2-10-0 locomotives which, despite their power, would still require a banker which was usually either another 9F, WD 2-8-0 or, in later years, an English Electric Type 4 (later Class 40) diesel locomotive.
There is a video here showing a number of steam locomotive movements and the ore trains at the junction.
A rail connection to South Pelaw Colliery joined the junction directly via a steep incline behind the Signal Box.
Just beyond the junction was a vast array of 36 sidings that served Stella Gill where coal trains from the local collieries were organised before passing through the junction on their way to Consett and the rest of the rail network.
Originally the iron ore trains ran from Tyne Dock via Washington but, in 1966, the tracks between South Pelaw and Washington were closed and the iron ore trains ran via Gateshead and Ouston Junction. From March 1974, iron ore was loaded at Redcar rather than Tyne Dock and the line from Washington to South Pelaw was reopened and the ore trains would use that line until the final train ran in September 1980.
Decline Sets In…
The closure of the remaining local collieries in the late 1960s meant the closure of the lines at Stella Gill which, with the exception of a single, truncated line, had all been lifted by the late 1960s.
Consett steelworks closed on 12 September 1980 with the loss of 3,700 jobs, devastating the local economy, and fell completely silent for the last time in 1983 with the last revenue earning freight train running on 30th September of that year. The closure of the line also left Consett, at the time, as the largest town in England without a connection to the railway network.
The railway, having lost the reason for it’s existence, was abandoned (although, ironically, it was used to carry away the scrap from the demolition of the steelworks) but not before the last ever passenger train (the passenger service originally ceased in May 1955), a special chartered by the Derwentside Rail Action Group, ran on 17th March 1984 behind Class 46 locomotive 46026. Further information on this train can be found here.
After the railway…
To the best of my knowledge, there is no signage on the C2C route to indicate that you are travelling on the former trackbed but, whilst an awful lot has clearly changed in the 30+ years since the closure of the line, glimpses of the former railway can still be seen today and some of these are documented in the ‘Past & Present‘ section of the site.
The line from South Pelaw to Consett now plays host to a number of art installations. At South Pelaw Junction itself is an earthwork representing the local legend of the Lambton Worm. Others include King Coal at Pelton, cows made of JCB parts at Beamish and the Old Transformers at East Castle.