Travel North - 55: Whitby & Pickering Railway, 2. "Breathing New Life" , the Trust Re-Opens the Line From Grosmont
British Railways' claim of a £50,000 annual deficit was not well received locally...
Several district councils banded together to keep the W&PR moorland line open in an attempt to subsidise operations. All in vain. The attempt failed and the end loomed darkly for the Pickering branch, as it had for the coastal route to Scarborough.
Sooner than yield, local people held a meeting on 3rd June, 1967 - over two years after closure of the route south from Grosmont - and the North York Moors Railway Preservation Society was formed, its members certain that with help they could make it work. It was after all - as was the Stockton & Darlington Railway - one of the most historic railways in the North of England, that coursed through a national park amid dramatic and picturesque surroundings. By its proximity to the coastal resorts commercial future looked assured.
Rumours abounded by September, 1967, that British Railways was about to have the track lifted and reclaim the rails. Members of the preservation society quickly set up a meeting with British Railways' regional managers, with the outcome that whilst the rails remained, calculations would be made of their cash value. In six months the situation would be reviewed, "in the light of the society's [financial] progress".
Interest in the line spread fast and wide, nevertheless, and when an open meeting was held in Goathland's parish hall it was packed to the doors. Villagers, townspeople and railway enthusiasts from all corners of the country endorsed the formation of the North Yorkshire Railway Company to put negotiations with the British Railways Board (BRB) on a solid footing. It became clear a few months later that the purchase of the whole railway from Grosmont to Pickering would carry a price tag of around £1000,000. The sum had been boosted to six figures by BRB because much of the route was heavily check-railed to ensure against derailment on the sharp curves, whilst also the rails were in very good condition and considered re-usable by them.
Obviously, to raise such a large amount would be beyond the society's means as they stood then. Plans were drawn up anew and after lengthy negotiations a price of £35,000 was agreed for the 6.75 miles from Grosmont, through Goathland station to Ellerbeck, £7,500 for railway premises between Grosmont and High Mill north of Pickering. The deal included only single track aside from passing loops, although it did include the cottages south of the tunnel at Grosmont, three more at Farwatch, two at Levisham (one had been a farmhouse when the W&PR's rails were first laid, and stood at an angle to the platform) as well as Goathland and Levisham stations themselves.
BRB allowed members of the society across to the line for maintenance from the autumn of 1968, and the slow progress of checking nearly four years of neglect. Working parties and 'works trains' became a familiar sight as undergrowth was uprooted from the trackbed and embankments, and cuttings were stripped of rampant tree and thorn growth.
The 2nd February, 1969 was made memorable by the first locomotive working on the railway. Freshly fallen snow reflected bright sunshine for 'Mirvale' as she was steamed from Pickering and chugged doggedly up Newton Dale. Enthusiasts from as far afield as Leicester came to witness the spectacle, and a crowd of five hundred gathered at Goathland to watch the line come back to life after nearly four years. The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) sent a cameraman from its regional centre at Newcastle-upon-Tyne to record the event and the footplatemen obliged by halting along the way for him. After a three hour journey Grosmont station was reached, almost hidden by flags and crowds of onlookers. .
Motive power allocations at Whitby, pre WWII
Steam gala weekends were introduced from 1970, with trains taking society members from Grosmont to Ellerbeck.
Elsewhere North Yorkshire County Council, based at Northallerton, its North York Moors National Park committee and the English Tourist Board showed interest in the railway's prospects.
The National Park authority became concerned at the prospect of a terminus being established by the railway at Ellerbeck. Environmentally, they felt, it would be better if the line could be retained throughout to Pickering by the fledgling NYMR. It was after all geographically the most suitable headquarters for commercial operations. Plainly the railway offered the best access to Newton Dale, and that part closure from Ellerbeck to Pickering would bring about an environmental disaster with car-clogged roads either side of the roughly north-south aligned dale. Therefore the County Council stepped in and agreed to purchase the trackbed between Ellerbeck and Pickering, and lease it to the society with the outcome that it could make best use of its capital to develop the line. Concurrently the Yorkshire Tourist Board (YTB) stepped forward with the biggest tourist incentive payment made to date in England, of £30,000 - mainly in secured loans.
In 1971 the society's assets and the company wee transferred to a new body and given charitable status. The North York Moors Historical Railway Trust (NYMHRT) had come into being, one of its main aims to "advance the education of the public in the history and development of railway locomotion by the development in working order of the historic and scenic railway line between the towns [sic] of Grosmont and Pickering". (Strictly speaking Grosmont is a village with one single through road and outlying properties).
Another important aim is to provide a means of opening up areas of the North York Moors National Park for the enjoyment of the wider public, recreation and instruction without jeopardising the natural attractions through substantial increase in moror traffic".
Prior to opening there was the small matter of obtaining two Light Railway Orders. One would enable the Trust to run a light railway (speed restricted throughout to 25 mph), the other would provide for the transfer of these powers from British Rail - re-named and re-organised since 1967 - to the Trust. It was a slow process, and eight years passed between British Railways line closure and the beginning of public services by the Trust on 22nd April, 1973.
Formal re-opening of the W&PR's southern section was marked by the Duchess of Kent - herself a Yorkshire lady, Catherine Worsley - who unveiled three plaques during the day. The first of these was at Grosmont station, the other two at the Angel Inn in Whitby and the Black Swan in Pickering, effectively the beginning and finishing points of the first journey in 1836.
Post-WWII, an Indian Summer... and then hard times
Passenger train services on what was at the time the longest privately owned and operated line in Britain were divided into two types.
Steam services were at first limited to Grosmont-Goathland, with diesel haulage over the rest of the line to Pickering to reduce fire risk and operating costs. Over-use of steam and better views for passengers (not having to see through a curtain of smoke) were the issue.
For the first two operating years services from Grosmont had to terminate at a temporary platform at High Mill, Pickering, due to the stubbornness of the District Council there, who held to the aim of demolishing the station to make way for a car park, shops and supermarket. Luckily for the Trust the station - designed by George Hudson's friend and Y&NMR architect George Townsend Andrews - was a listed building. Yet the council appealed against the County Council's refusal to allow demolition.
At a spirited public inquiry a petition to bar the use of the station by 33 signatories was roundly defeated by a counter petition signed by 1,400 in favour of the Trust. Over the course of the inquiry the atmosphere was further charged by the District Council's demolition of the sidings shed and what had very likely been the original station building, despite also being listed. In the end the District Council's appeal was lost and from 24th May, 1975 trains entered the historic station rescued from total - planned - dereliction. Doors had been kicked in, windows smashed and roofs leaked in what had been a cynical ploy by the council to point to irreparable damage due to vandalism.
Phoenix rising: Events and Memorable Occasions
(Economy, economy, economy... It wasn't altogether gloomy, though, with an army of willing volunteers)
By this time it was possible to rate the prospects of the railway against a general climate of economic downturn.
We saw a noted difference between the idea of a six and three-quarter mile railway
operated by enthusiasts as a tourist attraction on its own, versus an eighteen mile line that formed an element of an overall National Park and County Council plan. Substantial capital input, a core of full-time paid staff and a small army of willing volunteers would see to it that the railway became a resounding success large numbers of paying passengers had been drawn from all over the UK and abroad (160,000 journeys in 1974 alone). Important capital projects were still out of the Trust's reach, nevertheless, and disappointment shadowed them in an uncertain national economic downturn, ruling out the possibility of creating major family visitor attractions in Newton Dale. The Trust knew this to be essential for their viability, visitors being likely to be attracted by the accessibility of the forest areas around the railway near Newton-upon-Rawcliffe and Levisham on either side of the line. Despite apparent difficulties the Trust would still be able to fall back on the original Grosmont-Ellerbecfk plan should the worst come to the worst (after all, the Nene Valley line - formerly part of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway - near Peterborough fared reasonably well, and that was around six miles in length).
The hot summer of 1976 sent holidaymakers scurrying to the beaches rather than travelling in steam or diesel hauled trains. This proved a hard blow to the NYMR with its plans to introduce all-line steam operation - in particular due to the fire risk. For the first time the railway could not cover its operating costs. A long, hard look was needed to examine long-term plans. The Trust, the National Park Authorities and the County Council came together to hire management consultants to look into ways of taking the railway forward. the report of 1977 landed the progress achieved by volunteers and agreed that the railway had made "a remarkable start to its operations", although the subsequent rapid expansion was in "a crucial financial position". The railway was a valuable asset to tourism in the area and had reached a stage in its development where a more businesslike direction should be adopted to ensure the continued existence of the service provided. In failing, the tourist attraction of North Yorkshire would be reduced and a valuable public service lost.
The detailed recommendations proposed by the consultants included the appointment of a chief executive and improved management structure adopted; more promotional activities would need to be set in motion to 'sell' the railway to a more discerning public as well as enthusiasts; specific tourist attractions would need to be promoted together with other bodies (such as English Heritage, who owned the rined Norman castle at Pickering); and more needed to be done to foster information about local and regional heritage and attractions along the route. The term "Moors Line" or "Moors Railway" would need to be adopted and the possibility of converting two tank locomotives to oil-burning would help, in the event of further drought - to perpetuate the notion of a steam service when coal-fired locomotives without spark arresters fitted in the smokebox were unable to run.
Linked to the consultants' detailed study of the railway the North York Moors National Park Authority began a passenger survey in the high summer months of 1977, that gave many useful ideas for future development. From more than a thousand interviews 74% were holidaymakers, 77% were on their first ever trip over the line, just over half beginning their journey at Pickering. The consultants' report marked a definite watershed in the railway's development. Acting on the numerous proposals needed careful consideration, although by the late 1970s a chief executive had been appointed and information was published about the line and its environment.
The Countryside Commission agreed to finance a two year experimental interpretive project aimed at the realisation of the potential to improve visitor experience, to help in managing this part of the National Park and improve the commercial potential of the NYMR. The experiment centred on the appointment of a project officer to develop a variety of 'interpretive media' for railway use, such as trails, leaflets, a form of individually led commentary on trains and more obvious displays at stations about the local environment and the railway's part in it.
A fitting tribute to the volunteers and paid members of the NYMR, by no means the final word on the state of the line
Fifty-one years have elapsed since the society, later Trust, took over the line...
Forty-three years in March have passed since it and the coast line from Whitby to Scarborough were initially closed in line with Dr Beeching's recommendations. stiff opposition was raised by some parties in the Robin Hood's Bay station area to even a short length of that line being re-opened for steam enthusiasts.
The former W&PR was luckier. The brick plinth-based timber-built signal cabin that stood in the junction with the Battersby branch was moved next to the tunnel beside an observation platform for photographers and enthusiasts (based on earlier token exchange platforms at signal cabins), whilst the station pointwork and crossing gates were operated for a while by a manual lever frame (sited beside the former down line) by the crossing gates. More recently a larger signal cabin in the style of the North Eastern Railway's Central - later Southern - Division was built and commissioned after inspection to control signal and point operations at Grosmont including the junction with the Battersby-Whitby line. The cabin controls operations between Grosmont and Goathland and issues pouched tablets for locomotive crew to work the single line between Deviation Shed and Goathland. These are handed over to the signalman at Goathland, who issues a token for the line to Levisham, and so on to New Bridge at Pickering for permission to enter the terminus.
Additionally one of the signal bridges (or gantries in general parlance) from Falsgrave at Scarborough has been bought and erected at the junction, near the site of the former brickworks, with the number of 'dolls' necessary to bear signal arms for connections to Whitby.
At Pickering the overall roof was replaced in 2012, bringing back the handsome majesty of G T Andrews' architecture (similar to his Whitby Town station roof that spanned three tracks between the two main platforms, a release road in the centre for locomotives to run round their trains). Platform 2 at Whitby was lengthened, paid for by the NYMR with a loco release road to detach in the terminus and re-attach at the western end for the return run along the River Esk.
An idea to restore the line beyond Pickering to Rillington Junction (for Malton and York) was shelved for various reasons including cost. One reason would involve Regional Rail based at York, who would have claimed the right to run trains over the line to Whitby and thus compromise the NYMR's Light Railway status. As it is the NYMR is in the enviable position of making its own decisions in the same way as other large preserved lines such as the Severn Valley, Keighley & Worth Valley and West Highland railways.
TRAVEL NORTH - 53: WHITBY & PICKERING RAILWAY, Trials And Tribulations Of Enterprise
TRAVEL NORTH - 13: Re-OPENED RAILWAYS - Halcyon Days For The North York Moors And Wensleydale
For those of you interested in regional railway steam locomotive allocations of the 1950s I'll detail the allocations at Whitby in its final years under British Railways.
In 1950, according to Paul Bolger's "Steam Motive Power Depots - NER", the classes were listed as follows:-
Class J24 0-6-0 tender (light goods) : 65621, 65624, 65627, 65628;
Class G5 0-4-4 tank (local passenger): 67302, 67335;
Class A8 4-6-2 tank (distance passenger): 69858, 69860, 69861, 69864, 69865, 69888, 69890;
The shed was closed 6th April, 1959, its five remaining locomotives dispersed thus: , 42083, 42085 2-6-4 tank (distance passenger) to York, 50A; 42084 to Low Moor, Bradford, 56F; 77004, 77013 tender (BR Standard Class 3 mixed traffic) to Neville Hill, Leeds, 50B.
The last word in safety...
© 2018 Alan R Lancaster