The Aln Valley Railway Trust and its supporting Society were established to re-open the branch line from Alnmouth station located on the main Edinburgh-London line to Alnwick, primarily as a heritage railway tourist attraction.
Plans for the railway were launched in 1997 with the intention of bringing main-line steam back into Alnwick Station. This would have involved the provision of new bridges over the A1 dual carriageway to the east of Alnwick and South Road in the town – the old Great North Road. Although much funding was obtained, in the end it was not enough.
A core of dedicated supporters resurrected the project by proposing to construct the line in stages, rather than in one go. A number of the old railwaymen's cottages at Alnmouth Station (now sadly demolished to make way for the new car park) were purchased to be converted into offices and a hostel. Unfortunately the planning authority turned down the proposals due to lack of suitable access.
A further set-back occurred in 2002 when an application was made to Northumberland County Council to convert the trackbed east of the A1 into a footpath. This would have scuppered the plans for the railway. The county council did approve the footpath but the order was overturned after a public inquiry in 2007. However in 2006 permission was granted for the construction of a supermarket on part of the old Alnwick station site. This resulted in the loss of the only useable platform and the filling in of the trackbed on the station approach.
In the meantime the Trust reconsidered the plans and decided to constuct a new station for Alnwick in the field adjacent to the trackbed to the east of the A1 near the Lionheart business park. There is ample space for parking and suitable buildings for the visitor experience, and will have good road access from the A1068/A1 interchange.
Instead of the original 1997 plan of building the line in one go, the route to Alnmouth will be constructed in stages. Initially Greenrigg Bridge, approximately halfway, is the first target. As it carries a public road, a parliamentary piece of paper called a Transport and Works Order will be required to get past this point. Unfortunately this is not cheap, so much more funding will be required. Once obtained, the line will proceed down to the old branch platform at Alnmouth station, with cross-platform transfer to the main line for passengers. Plans allow for the other side of the trackbed to be a permissive cyclepath, which will connect the national coastal cycle route safely to Alnwick. The local planning authority approved the plans in the summer of 2010, which allowed the Trust to commence negotiations with Northumberland Estates, the landowners, for the lease of the field and trackbed.
In February 2011, the railway received a grant of £129,000 from LEADER which, along with additional funding from the Duke of Northumberland, kick started the project. Construction work commenced in March 2012 and short shuttle rides commenced early in 2013.
The Trust had the use of the old station yard at Longhoughton, alongside the East Coast main line not far from Alnwick. Track components, railway infrastructure and items of rolling stock belonging to the railway were stored there undergoing restoration but have all now moved to Lionheart. Other items of stock are also located at Wooler, being moved as and when.
In April 2013, the Society ceased to exist when it merged with the Trust. This was done to allow the railway to be run by a group of volunteers without high tax liabilities, protection from risk and at low cost. However as the railway grows, the possibility of setting up a subsidiary trading company will be kept under review.
LEADER is a community led approach to rural development and is seen by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as an important way of addressing rural needs. The funding is being made available through the Rural Development Programme for England, which is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union. More information about RDPE and LEADER is available via www.leadercoastandlowlands.org.uk. For more information on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs please visit www.defra.gov.uk.
The Rural Development Programme for England 2007-2013 is jointly funded by Defra and the European Union, with the aim of delivering targeted support to rural businesses and communities. It is managed in England by Defra, Natural England and the Forestry Commission. For further information on RDPE and Europe, please visit: http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/rurdev/index_en.htm.