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The South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway was promoted in the 1850s to cater for the potential mineral traffic of coke and iron ore between the South Durham coalfield and the Furness district of Lancashire. It was to be by means of this link that the iron and steel industry of Furness obtained coke for its blast furnaces, the first of which was lit at Barrow in 1859, the industry expanding rapidly after the opening of the SD&LUR in 1861. The route was to fulfil this function throughout its life, closing 100 years later just before iron smelting at Barrow finally ceased.

Supported by the Stockton & Darlington Railway, the SD&LUR was absorbed by that company before it opened, and in turn became part of the North Eastern Railway in 1863.

Faced with formidable physical obstacles Thomas Bouch engineered a line which was to become famous for its spectacular viaducts. The Pennines were breasted at Stainmore Pass, 170 feet above sea level, and approached from Kirkby Stephen by nearly ten miles of gradients at 1 in 72, 50 and 59, while from Barnard Castle the climb extended over 12 miles, much of it at grades between 1 in 67 and 1 in 70. Between Kirkby Stephen and Tebay was a lesser summit as the line crossed between the valleys of the Rivers Eden and Lune. The problems of operating this high-level line in winter were vividly recorded in the ten-minute film made in 1952 by the British Transport Film Unit, "Snowdrift at Bleath Gill", the location being about one mile west of Stainmore Summit.

Northwards from Kirkby Stephen the link to Penrith and the Cockermouth Keswick & Penrith Railway was built by the Eden Valley Railway which opened in 1862, and was similarly to become part of the Stockton & Darlington and then the North Eastern.

Kirkby Stephen was to become a minor railway town as the operating centre for these railways, with its locomotive shed and storage sidings. Today, nearby viaducts have been restored by the Northern Viaduct Trust and opened to walkers; the Stainmore Railway Company is restoring Kirkby Stephen East station and the Eden Valley Railway, based at Warcop, plans the re-opening of the line from there to Appleby.

South Durham & Lancashire Union Railway
Line Opened Closed
Barnard Castle to Tebay 8 August 1861
Absorbed by Stockton & Darlington Rly 30 June 1862
Merged into North Eastern Railway 13 July 1863
Station Opened Closed
Barnard Castle 22 January 1962
Lartington 22 January 1962
Bowes 22 January 1962
Barras 22 January 1962
Kirkby Stephen 22 January 1962
Smardale 1 December 1952
Ravenstonedale 1 December 1952
Gaisgill 1 December 1952

Eden Valley Railway
Line Opened Closed
Kirkby Stephen to Clifton 9 June 1862
Absorbed by Stockton & Darlington Rly 30 June 1862
Merged into North Eastern Railway 13 July 1863
Station Opened Closed
Musgrave 3 November 1952
Warcop 22 January 1962
Appleby 22 January 1962
Kirkby Thore 7 December 1953
Temple Sowerby 7 December 1953
Cliburn 17 September 1956
Clifton Moor 22 January 1962

Passenger service withdrawals
Line Opened Closed
Kirkby Stephen to Tebay 1 December 1952
Penrith to Barnard Castle & Darlington 22 January 1962

For further reading see Bibliography