The Wensleydale Railway is a remarkable survivor, from its beginnings as part of the so called “Railway King” George Hudson’s empire, through to its threatened closure in 1992.
Built in stages from 1847, the first section opened between Northallerton and Leeming Bar in 1848, the section between Leeming Bar and Leyburn in 1856 and the section between Leyburn and Garsdale was finished in 1878.
The branch survived through the late 19th Century and early 20th Century predominantly on transporting farming produce and quarried materials along with a few passengers. The axe fell on regular passenger services in 1954, with Bedale and Leyburn stations remaining open to accept freight and coal traffic.
By the late 1960’s the line had been lifted from Garsdale to Redmire, leaving only the limestone trains from Redmire to Redcar and up to the early 1980’s a freight and coal service to the remaining open stations. By 1992, the line was under threat, British Steel had decided that the it was uneconomic to continue transport the limestone by train and British Rail announced that it intended to close and sell off the line……….
……but then an unlikely saviour stepped in – The Ministry of Defence. The MoD decided to use the branch for occasional transport of military vehicles. They invested a sum of money in installing a loop at Castle Hills and altering the facilities at Redmire Railhead from limestone loading to vehicle loading. There has to be some irony in the fact that the branch was threatened with closure due to its traffic being lost to road transport ending up being saved by transporting road vehicles amongst others!
In the meantime, the Wensleydale Railway Association, formed in 1990, built up enough support to enable form a company to operate the line and obtain a 100 year lease to be signed on the branch from Northallerton (Castle Hills) to Redmire.
The Wensleydale Railway plc began operating services in 2003 initially between Leeming Bar and Leyburn and expanded this service the following year to Redmire. In November 2014, the Railway opened a new station at Northallerton West, with services commencing in 2015.
In 2015 services began to a new platform at Northallerton West, giving the railway a first, temporary presence in the county town, allowing the passengers to use the full 22 miles of the railway. In 2017, we hope to bring Scruton Station, the 2015 Railway Heritage Trust Award Winner, into use by the building of a platform extension, restoring passenger services there for the first time in 62 years.
In late 2015, the railway, through the generosity of its supporters, was lucky enough to purchase a railway bridge from the A1 upgrade project at Catterick. This is intended to “Bridge the Gap” at Apedale Beck at Redmire to allow the Railway to extend to Aysgarth. The next step now is to raise funds for re-building the abutments.
Next steps are to build a Maintenance and Restoration shed at Leeming Bar, to enable rolling stock to be worked on under cover.
And to the future? Medium term is the restoration of the line back to Aysgarth and from there, over a longer term, the goal is to Garsdale.
See our Aysgarth Ambition page for details of our fundraising efforts to finance these developments.