A passenger train climbs Ais Gill Summit just north of Kirkby Stephen
The Settle - Carlisle (S&C) railway is world famous: it was recently voted the second-best rail journey in the world by ABC News in the USA. It was built by the Midland Railway and opened in 1875, the third of the three main routes from London to Scotland.
As the East Coast and West Coast routes
had taken the relatively easy routes north,
the Midland was left with no alternative but
to blast its way over the Pennine mountains.
The result is spectacular, and it is still the
highest mainline in England.
Today, the Glasgow express no longer thunder through the station. But since the line’s historic repreive from closure in 1988, both passenger and freight traffic has grown considerably.
In 2010, Kirkby Stephen is a call for 7 passenger services each way on weekdays and 3
on Sundays (plus 2 ‘Dalesrail’ trains in summer). All the passenger trains (apart from Dalesrail) work between Leeds and Carlisle, and apart from one ‘semi-fast’ express train
call at all stations on the line.
Around 25,000 journeys a year are made to or from the station.
Click on the button below for the full line timetable.
Trains that use the line today:
The Settle - Carlisle Line and Kirkby Stephen Station:
The payload is up to 2,000 tonnes, and as Kirkby Stephen is half way up the 15-mile climb mainly
at a gradient of 1 in 100 to Ais Gill summit, these trains are working at full power.
Even with a modern diesel loco up front these working are an impressive sight, often passing
by at no more than 20mph.
In addition to coal, there is usually a daily gypsum train to Kirkby Thore, north of Appleby, plus daily timber, cement and a rail engineers workings, and
in leaf-fall season the railhead treatement train too.
The number of freight trains varies day to day, but can reach double figures in each direction.
Generally speaking, there are no freight workings between Saturday lunchtime and Monday lunchtime. Most services are coal, in high-capacity hopper wagons, with empties going north and returning loaded from Scottish opencast pits and import terminals to power stations in the Midlands.
Passing Steam Trains:
Then, of course, there are steam-hauled excursions. Unfortunately none call to pick
up passengers at Kirkby Stephen (or any of the S&C stations), but particularly on the southbound climb to Ais Gill they are an experience not to be missed.
Kirkby Stephen station is roughly the half-way
point between Settle in Yorkshire and Carslisle
on the Scottish border. At an elevation of 870’, perched high on the hillside above the town it
serves, it boasts magnificent views - but equally
can catch the full force of the weather.
Lying snow is common over winter: great for photographers, but extra care is needed when walking or driving.
Almost all of the S&C stations are built to a
standard pattern for the line, Kirkby Stephen
being constructed of local limestone and of
the ‘large’ version, as at Settle and Appleby.
However, this is the only station to have been provided with a First Class waiting room.
It was closed in 1970 but reopened (unstaffed) in 1986. In the 21st century the lease was acquired by the S&C Railway Trust, who spent £¼m restoring the station building to its former glory. Prince Charles performed the rededication ceremony on the completion of
the works in 2005. A full history and description of the station can be found here.
Most are hauled by class 66 locos, with the occasional new class 70 putting in an appearance.
‘The Fellsman’ runs every Wednesday usually from mid June to mid September, and in 2012 there were regular steam trains on Saturdays and Sundays in August. One-off tours run at any time through the year.
Passing Freight Trains:
2000 tonnes of coal begins the climb up Mallersatang
from Kirkby Stephen Station
A Class 66 heads south through the station
If you join the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line you can get a FoSCL Dalescard,
a railcard that gives you a third off rail travel on the line. Otherwise there is the
Settle & Carlisle Day Ranger, or for a simple day trip a Day Return ticket.
The Settle - Carlisle Railway Trust