Oldest commuter railway in the world

Old North Shields BR Station
9 March 2011

Howdon CrossingThe Metro line between Chillingham Road and North Shields can claim to be the oldest dedicated commuter railway anywhere in the world.

It was first opened to trains in June 1839 – 172 years ago – by the Newcastle and North Shields Railway Company, creating a route from the growing coastal towns into the city centre.

Embankments on the line through Wallsend date all the way back to this era, when the ‘father of the railways’ Robert Stephenson was still alive – as do the stone piers of Howdon Viaduct.

North Shields station is one of a number that have been on the same site since 1839 – when it marked the terminus of the original line.

Walkergate StationTen years after opening tracks extended to Tynemouth and later in the century up and round the coast via Whitley Bay to Blyth and back to Newcastle.

There was also once a loop of line from Byker along the riverside for shipyard workers to get to work, but this closed in the 1970s and is now part of the Coast-to-Coast cycle route.

In 1904 the North Eastern Railway converted the line to be one of the first in the UK to run on electric power, rather than using steam locomotives.

Howdon Station
This lasted until the 1960s, and by the 70s old-fashioned and rundown stations and diesel trains meant the line was losing passengers and money.

The line closed in 1980 for two years of planned modernisation works to convert it to a new form of transport – Metro, withwork starting the day after the very first stretch of Metro opened between Haymarket and Tynemouth.

The first Metro trains on this stretch of line ran on 14th November 1982, using the new station at Byker, Byker viaduct and a tunnel in to Monument, rather than the previous ‘British Rail’ route to Central station from Chillingham Road.

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