Former Hull to Barnsley line could become 'Coal to Coast Greenway' after plans to open heritage railway scuppered by coal availability

Ambitious plans to open a heritage railway on part of the former Hull to Barnsley line in Wakefield have been amended due to concerns over coal availability.

Local enthusiast Keith Taylor set up a group last year to explore interest in reinstating the old Upton and South Elmsall Station and just over two miles of track running through Upton Country Park, and obtained support from Wakefield Council.

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Despite over 500 people joining the group, it has changed direction after members realised the future problems to be faced by steam railways in sourcing coal to run on.

The remains of the old platform can still be seen at Upton, where a station serving the village and colliery stood until the 1950s

Most British mines have now closed ahead of government bans on burning house coal coming into force in 2023, and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is trialling imported coal from Russia and is considering shipping it from Australia in future.

Mr Harris also cited pressure from Extinction Rebellion in the group's decision to instead press ahead with converting the whole of the former Hull to Barnsley line, which closed in the 1950s, into a greenway for cyclists and walkers which can boost tourism and industrial heritage in former mining areas.

The route was conceived back in 1885 to transport coal from the South Yorkshire seam to the Hull docks, and terminated at what is now the North Sea ferry port at the old Alexandra Dock - meaning a trail would have potential to attract visitors from Europe. It passed through the rural Yorkshire Wolds, where a short stretch serving Drax power station survives.

The group has provisionally named the project the Coal to Coast Greenway, and hopes it can reinvigorate interest in pit communities as well as scenic villages once served by the line, such as North and South Cave and Little Weighton.

Upton and South Elmsall Station before demolition

Mr Taylor said: "Some very promising people who seemed to know what they were doing and were willing to help joined the group, including one person who had successfully managed a narrow gauge railway elsewhere.

"Unfortunately the majority of people in the group including myself felt that only a standard gauge railway would be a suitable tribute to the Hull and Barnsley railway that had originally been there.

"This means that the railway idea has had to be put on hold until someone comes forward with the expertise that is required to make it a reality.

"It is also a very difficult time for the heritage railway industry as a whole as there are issues such as the increasing difficulty in the sourcing of coal and opposition against the burning of fossil fuels from groups such as Extinction Rebellion.

Little Weighton Station near Beverley is now a private house but was once part of the line's passenger service

"The original idea wasn’t just to build a steam railway but also celebrate the industrial heritage not only of the railway but of the wider industrial complex it served. This includes the collieries of West and South Yorkshire as well as the loading docks at Hull.

"We had also always wanted to upgrade the greenway which currently runs along part of the alignment through Upton Country Park so that wheelchair users could enjoy it too. Over the past few months we started to discuss this part of the project in more detail and decided that we needed to think bigger than we originally had.

"We thought - what if a greenway could be created along the entire route of the old Hull and Barnsley railway running from the ferry port at Hull through the Yorkshire Wolds and into the former collieries, most of which are now country parks or nature reserves?

"It could attract cycling and walking tourists from Europe who could disembark the ferry at Hull and make their way through the Yorkshire countryside, ending up and breathing new life into ex-mining communities which still haven’t fully recovered from the demise of their industry."

The plans still include the rebuilding of a replica station at Upton and South Elmsall, as the original one, close to the old Upton Colliery, was demolished.

"Along the route information boards could highlight the history and heritage of that particular area enabling tourists to learn about it, and building a replica of Upton and North Elmsall railway station would serve as museum and educational centre dedicated to industrial heritage."

Mr Taylor has secured support from Hemsworth MP Jon Trickett, and Wakefield Council have agreed to seek funding to upgrade the section that runs through Upton Country Park for wheelchair access.

Sustrans have also confirmed they will consider the proposal in their next 30-year plan for sustainable transport routes.

The Hull to Barnsley railway originally ran passenger services in order to receive parliamentary approval, and several stations were built, but the line had become freight-only by the 1930s and never actually reached Barnsley, terminating at Cudworth instead. The gradual closure of the collieries and docks it served sent it into terminal decline.

Anyone interested in joining the Coal to Coast Greenway project can join the Facebook group here.