The Wensleydale Railway [http://www.wensleydalerailway.com/index.html] at present is, in essence, a seventeen-mile railway siding through some of the most attractive landscape in Yorkshire. Its staple rolling stock consists of those wonderful 1950s diesel railcars when you can sit at the front looking over the driver’s shoulder at the track ahead. It potters through stations serving the towns and villages of the eastern end of Wensleydale – Bedale, Finghall, Leyburn. It has really exciting potential, and a hard-headed management team that shows every sign of achieving its targets.
The line served as a link between the East Coast Main Line near Northallerton and the Settle & Carlisle Railway at Garsdale. Opened in stages between 1848 and 1878, the section east of Hawes was owned by the North Eastern Railway; west of Hawes belonged to the Midland Railway but the through service was operated by the North Eastern. The stretch west of Redmire was dismantled after 1964, while the line east remained in use for quarry traffic until 1992.
In response to the imminent threat of final closure, the Wensleydale Railway Association was formed in 1990, initially committed to restoring environment-friendly passenger transport to the towns and villages of the dale and – given the assurance that the long-threatened Settle & Carlisle would after all remain open – ultimately dedicated to the long-term reinstatement of the whole line.
Assisted by a Ministry of Defence undertaking to use the line to transport military vehicles from Catterick, the Association agreed terms with Network Rail to lease the existing track and reopened passenger services between Leeming Bar and Leyburn in 2003. The service was extended to Redmire the following year.
Though the line uses historic rolling stock, including on occasions steam haulage, it is not so much an exhibition line as a serious transport route. Its administration is committed to hastening slowly, first upgrading the well-used existing track, next reinstating a link into Northallerton [http://www.wensleydalerailwayassociation.com/resources/NorthallertionOptionsAssessmentNov+09.pdf] and then extending from Redmire to the popular tourist destinations of Castle Bolton and Aysgarth Falls [http://www.wensleydalerailway.com/091009_Final_Wenselydale_Railway_Socio-economic_Study_Issue.pdf]. The more ambitious project to restore the missing link to Hawes and Garsdale – which requires repurchasing land, rebuilding bridges and in effect constructing a new railway – must wait. Earning revenue by providing a service comes first.
For the moment, this admirable line provides an enjoyable outing between Leeming Bar, just off the A1, to Redmire, linking with a vintage single-deck bus service to and from Ripon, calling at Jervaulx Abbey, Castle Bolton and Aysgarth Falls.
One day, it will be possible once more to make a round trip along the East Coast Main Line, the Wensleydale Railway and the southern part of the Settle & Carlisle. Serving that traffic will need more than a couple of diesel railcars.
The 48-page, A4 handbook for the 2011 Waterways & Railways across the Northern Pennines tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.