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Obtaining its first Act of Parliament in 1829 the Newcastle & Carlisle was one of the very first railways, the first public railway in Cumbria and the first cross-country route linking the Irish and North Seas. The scheme had it roots back in the canal era when several fruitless proposals had been put forward to link Carlisle with Newcastle from the 1790s onwards. Originally intended for the use of horse traction, steam locomotives were in use from the opening of the first section from Blaydon to Hexham in March 1835. The western end, from Carlisle to Blenkinsop, near Greenhead, was opened on 19th July 1836, with completion of the line throughout from 18th July 1838. An interesting feature or the N&CR was its adoption of right-hand running which lasted until merger with the North Eastern Railway in 1862.

The branch to Brampton long predated the Newcastle & Carlisle Railway having originally been part of the early waggonways which have become known as "Lord Carlisle's Railways", at one time providing a home for Stephenson's "Rocket" before it was preserved in the Science Museum. This network of lines had a complex history, and at one time extended right through to Lambley on the Alston Branch.

The Alston Branch was first mooted in 1841 to go as far as the lead mining centre of Nenthead but the last few miles were not included in the final scheme which was completed in stages during 1851/52. Steeply graded, and with many bridges and viaducts, the line handled quantities of lead, lime and coal. Closure proposals came from the late 1950s onwards, but the branch continued to link remote Alston with the outside world until 1st May 1976, the final rites only being permitted after the construction of a new road. The southern section of the branch has since been reopened as the narrow-gauge South Tynedale Railway.

Openings and Closures
Line Opened Closed
Hexham to Blaydon 9 March 1835 Open
Hexham to Haydon Bridge 28 June 1836 Open
Carlisle to Blenkinsopp Coll (Greenhead) 19 July 1836 Open
Blaydon to Redheugh (Newcastle) 1 March 1837 Open
Blenkinsopp Colliery to Haydon Bridge 18 June 1838 Open
Stations (west and south of Haltwhistle only)
Station Opened Closed
Carlisle London Road 19 July 1836 1 January 1863
Scotby 19 July 1836 2 November 1959
Wetheral 19 July 1836 2 January 1967
reopened 5 October 1981 Open
Heads Nook 19 July 1836 2 January 1967
How Mill 19 July 1836 5 January 1959
Brampton Junction 19 July 1836 Open
Brampton Town 19 July 1836 29 October 1923
Naworth 19 July 1836 5 May 1952
Low Row 19 July 1836 5 January 1959
Gilsland 19 July 1836 2 January 1967
Greenhead 19 July 1836 2 January 1967
Haltwhistle 18 June 1838 Open
Featherstone Park 19 July 1851 3 May 1976
Coanwood July 1851 3 May 1976
Lambley 17 November 1852 3 May 1976
Alston 17 November 1852 3 May 1976