Registered Charity No 702724
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Caring for Historic Railway Buildings along the Line
The Settle and Carlisle
Railway Trust
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The Settle - Carlisle Line
Blea Moor signal box - the
most remote on the line
The route uses the natural contours and north-south lie of the Ribble
and Eden valleys. To link these river valleys, and to maintain a fast line speed with a gradient no steeper than 1 in 100, the line cuts through the Pennine landscape in a series of dramatic tunnels, cuttings and bridges.
Its magnificent structures include the awe inspiring Ribblehead viaduct
and infamous Blea Moor tunnel.
The steady 10-mile pull from Settle Junction up to Blea Moor - the ‘Long Drag’ to its generations of enginemen - passes between the ‘Three Peaks’ of Pen-y-ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. This is followed by skirting above Dentdale and upper Wensleydale to the line’s summit at Ais Gill.
At a height of 1169 feet it is the highest point on a mainline in England,
and is overshadowed by the evocatively named Wild Boar Fell.
Next the line picks up the infant river Eden in Mallerstang
valley, dropping for 10 miles at 1 in 100 down from the mountain country to a lush pastoral landscape, passing through the market towns of Kirkby Stephen and Appleby.
It follows the Eden onwards all the way to Carlisle, where
on the edge of the city it joins the line from Newcastle and enters the maze of lines leading to Citadel station.
A brief history of the line
The Settle - Carlisle line has a fascination that begins with its controversial conception. With an eye
on the profit made by the West Coast and East Coast routes from London to Scotland, the Midland Railway wanted a slice of the action. Frustrated by the intransigence of the London & North Western Railway and its reluctance to handle the Midland’s Anglo-Scottish traffic at Ingleton (the limit of the Midland’s line), the company decided in the 1860’s to go it alone and build its own route to the Border.
Realising the Midland meant business and the real threat to its own traffic, the LNWR began to co-operate and offered very favourable terms for the passage of Midland traffic over its Shap route to Carlisle. Consequently, the Midland sought to abandon its new proposal. But other railway companies, particularly the North British and Lancashire & Yorkshire Railways, saw benefits in the scheme for themselves through allying with the Midland, and successfully overturned the abandonment bill in Parliament. As such the line had to be built after all.
Despite this setback, the Midland set to with a will, and did not compromise on quality. Construction began in 1869 and the line took seven arduous years to build. Hundreds of navvies died, many being buried and commemorated in the churchyard at Chapel-le-Dale. One of the four contractors went bankrupt as indeed very nearly was the Midland Railway itself, the line costing nearly £3.5 million, the equivalent of as over £1 billion at today’s prices.
The line opened for passenger traffic on 1st May 1876, and through trains began running between London St Pancras and Glasgow St Enoch station. Although the line itself was laid out to full mainline standards, with gentler gradients and curves than the line over Shap Fell, overall the Midland could never hope to compete with its East and West Coast rivals in terms of the overall journey time between London and Scotland. However, it more than made up for this in the standard of accommodation it provided for its passengers, introducing luxurious Pullman cars from America, and abolishing Second Class. In practice, freight traffic provided the mainstay of income for the line, whilst local traffic both passenger and freight was always marginal, many of the stations being built a long way from the places they purported to serve.
With the amalgamation of the Midland and its rival LNWR and others to form the London Midland and Scottish Railway in 1923, the steady decline of importance of the Settle-Carlisle line began, playing second fiddle to the West Coast route from Euston. The line did enjoy a surge of importance during the Second World War, carrying an unprecedented amount of traffic. But with a lack of investment the in the post war era, and ever-increasing competition from road transport industry, a period of steady decline set in.
The fight against closure
The line survived Dr. Beeching's Plan of 1963 for Reshaping the Railways but all the intermediate stations except Settle and Appleby were closed from 4th May 1970. The through express passenger trains were diverted away from the line along with all freight traffic leaving a service of only two stopping passenger trains per day in each direction supplemented at weekends in the Summer by the Dalesrail trains provided at Local Authority expense to provide a service for walkers. The line was also opened to steam hauled special trains and they provided significant public interest in the line. Nevertheless the Government and BR gave notice in 1984 that it was intended to close the line in view of the heavy financial losses.
The fight against the closure was the largest ever seen in this country. There were
over 26,000 written objections plus the legendary dog. Every legal loophole statement or minor error in the closure notices was exploited so the process dragged on for five years. Meanwhile the vast publicity created by the threatened closure and the desire to travel over the line before it closed generated a large increase in passengers using the line and the service increased to five return journeys over the line each day to cope with the new demand. Special passenger trains both diesel and steam hauled also showed
a large increase in numbers.
The Government and BR had made great emphasis on the fact that the condition of Ribblehead Viaduct was such that it required renewal or very heavy repairs at a cost which could not be justified. An experimental repair of one arch to assess the total cost showed this would be much lower than anticipated.
In 1988 the Government announced it was minded to close the line but would give six months breathing time to see if a proposal could be found
to operate the line privately. No such viable proposal was received.
In April 1989 the Minister for Transport announced that consent to closure was being declined citing as the reasons the great public interest in the line, the improvement in the number of passengers using the line and the lower costs of repairing Ribblehead Viaduct. In making this decision the Minister hoped that the vast public pressure which had been mounted to save the line could now be turned into a positive means of improving the lines' fortunes.
at Garsdale
Ribblehead Viaduct
under repair
Wild Boar Fell
Dent Head Viaduct
The Midland Railway Crest
'Tornado' crosses Smardale Viaduct
The railway line between Settle in Yorkshire and Carlisle in Cumbria is one of the most well-known
in Britain, and indeed is admired around the world.
It epitomises the enterprise and determination
of the Victorian railway directors, engineers and navvies in their struggle to conquer the forces
of nature across ‘the roof of England’. Such was the lure of the lucrative traffic between England and Scotland that drove the directors, engineers and 'navvies' in their struggle to conquer the
forces of nature in their pursuit to capture a
share in the revolution that was the railway age
of 19th century Britain.
All images on this website are courtesy of the SCRT, Tony Freschini, Geoff Bounds, Martin Firth and Andrew & Rachel Griffiths of ImageRail
Copyright (C) 2010
Registered Charity No 702724