24th August might not mean much to many, for the Churnet Valley Railway it marks a significant milestone that some thought would never happen. In 1996 summer was coming to a close, England had missed out on a European final by the length of Paul Gascoigne’s boot and the Spice Girls had released their debut single.
Over the Bank Holiday weekend though pressure was rising as the newly formed CVR prepared to run its first ever passenger train. The supporting charity had built up the Cheddleton Railway Centre over the last two decades, but to takeover the now redundant Churnet Valley Line a new company had been formed to take over the commercial and operational side of things.
And so on that Saturday morning, everything was set for the first steam hauled journey down the valley since 1965. It had been planned to use the line’s flagship no. 44422, but due to other commitments the CVR hired in Severn Valley based Jinty no. 47383 for the first month. After a mighty effort by the volunteers of the operating department, the freshly cleaned locomotive left the confines of Cheddleton Yard, and ventured onto the former mainline to couple to a rake of three former Mk1 coaches. And then at 11am, with the sound of the guard’s whistle in the air and the sight of the crossing keeper’s flag showing the road was set, 47383 departed from Cheddleton with the first steam hauled service to Leek Brook Junction.
Services were initially restricted to the 1-mile length between Cheddleton and the former Leek Brook Junction. Over the years services have been extended to Consall (1998) and Froghall (2001) with the additional re-opening of the Cauldon Lowe branch (2010). The railway is currently working on its next extension to the market town of Leek, an original goal of the early preservation pioneers who came together in the 1970s.
To celebrate this silver anniversary, the Churnet Valley Railway will be running an evening steam service to celebrate the occasion. The Bank Holiday weekend in 2021 sees the Rail Ale Trail return with a revised format due to the restrictions from COVID. Usually during this event steam hauls the daytime services with one of the line’s heritage diesels providing an evening service. For this year though the roles are being reversed, and diesel will operate during the daytime with resident Polish Tank no. 2944 Hotspur performing on the Saturday and Sunday evening services. Tickets are available online now, with a discount available. Tickets will be available on the day though, with no requirement to pre-book. So please come down and join in the celebrations of Staffordshire’s Premier heritage railway.