When British Rail closed the railway north of Matlock in 1968 it seemed that this part of the former Midland Railway’s main line between Derby and Manchester was lost forever. However, in 1975 a group of railway enthusiasts put forward far-sighted proposals for the re-opening of the Matlock – Buxton railway line as a heritage and community railway offering a service for both tourists and local residents, and so The Peak Rail Project was born.
I grew up in Matlock and in 1975 would have been 12 years old and a bit of a railways fan. I can just about recall a small group of enthusiasts working out of the former goods/parcel shed behind the station and a rather weary-looking engine standing, for what seemed like years, with little outward sign of restoration.
This visit is the first I’ve made to the Peak Rail operation since those formative ‘innocent years’ when my idea of a wild time was to take the early DMU from Matlock for a days heady train-spotting on Derby station.
It was immediately apparent that during my three decades absence Peak Rail had gone on to quietly achieve milestone after milestone. To name just a few of the volunteers achievements: the line from Matlock to Rowsley has been cleared and secured; the track and signalling reinstated; a permanent interchange platform established at Matlock station; the station at Darley Dale restored and turned into a small museum to the line; the iron bridge crossing the River Derwent (just outside Matlock) stabilised and renovated; and the northern terminus established on the site of the former engine sheds at Rowsley.
It was a rather murky mid-August morning that greeted the Boys and I when we visited their current northern terminus just off the A6 between Darley Dale and Rowsley. It’s here that Peak Rail are now based. The preservation society occupies some 28 acres of land that once housed engine sheds and associated engineering and goods siding.
The location of Peak Rail operations today can be easily worked out on this 1920’s track diagram showing the location of the 1926 Shed and engineering sidings (only a small part of the complete Rowsley yard). The turntable has been recently restored to working order, and stands at the centre of Peak Rail operations, whilst their main loco shed appropriately stands on the site of the long-since levelled engine shed shown in the drawing, though only occupying about a third of the original building’s footprint. Peak Rail’s running line follows the line of the old Midland main line which sweeps out of the drawing on the bottom left hand side.
Our visit provides a wonderful opportunity to share just a few fascinating images for the former Rowsley engine shed I found online.
Back at Rowsley another treat awaited is in the form of the delightful two foot gauge Derbyshire Dales Narrow Gauge Railway which operates a small collection of industrial locomotives and rolling stock on a 500 yard stretch of track adjacent to the picnic area. Your ticket on the Peak Rail train entitles you to a free ride on this little gem. The volunteers were great with the Boys and made them feel really welcome, fuelling their enthusiasm – ‘Dad, why can’t we have one of these???”
The place was awash with character.
All round we had a wonderful morning, and the fact that the skies opened didn’t matter a jot. Thanks Peak Rail!