A RARE 104-year-old steam locomotive is taking part in a fortnight of celebrations on the world’s oldest railway.

The South Eastern and Chatham Railway ‘P’ Class locomotive No. 178 has completed a 300 mile journey to the North-East to be at the Tanfield Railway, near Stanley, County Durham, over the bank holiday weekend.

Built in Ashford, Kent in 1910, No. 178 is based at Bluebell Railway, in Sussex, but made the trip north to take part in events commemorating the region’s rich railway heritage.

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Tanfield Railway director, David Watchman said: “We wanted to celebrate this period of our history with a special visitor that really summed up what branch lines are all about.

“The ‘P’ Class with its elaborate livery and gleaming brass work really encapsulates everything about rural branch lines that were so loved and found their way into so many people’s lives.”

No. 178 was one of a special class of steam locomotives built specifically to work branch line trains in the South-East.

The 28 ton locomotive worked in London suburbs, in the Brighton and Reading areas and in Kent before being withdrawn by British Railways after nearly 50 years in service.

After a period working at a paper mill in Kent, No. 178 was preserved by the Bluebell Railway, the first branch line in the country to be saved and operated by volunteers.

It was restored to its original South Eastern and Chatham Railway condition, complete with fine lining and highly polished brass work in 2010.

The visit to Tanfield Railway is believed to be the first time that the locomotive has ever travelled north of London, and the trip was arranged specially for celebrations to mark 175 years since iron rails were first laid on the Tanfield route.

The line from collieries near Stanley to the Tyne at Dunston was rebuilt as a ‘modern’ railway in 1839 by the Brandling Junction Railway.

The modernisation also led to steam locomotives being introduced and transformed mining in the area with a passenger service also introduced for a brief period.

Mr Watchman said: “When this route was modernised it became a very early example of what we would recognise as a branch line today.”

The visiting ‘P’ Class will be in action alongside locomotives based at Tanfield this coming Saturday and Sunday as well.