The Staycation Express will return to the Settle to Carlisle line this summer with an InterCity125 dining train, a longer route and a new timetable

The operators of the 'Staycation Express' rail services on the Settle to Carlisle line have revealed an expanded programme this summer following the success of their inaugural season.

Ribblehead Viaduct is one of the big draws for passengers
Ribblehead Viaduct is one of the big draws for passengers

The Staycation Express - a subsidy of Crewe-based parent company Rail Charter Services, which focuses on high-end steam tours - began as an experiment in July 2020 to take advantage of increased visitor numbers in the Yorkshire Dales following the first wave of the pandemic.

It was so well-received that its owners have now committed to a revised timetable and a longer route for 2021 and have even sourced their own InterCity125 locomotive and carriages last used on the Great Western Railway between London and Cornwall to run the services.

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Director Adrian Quine told the Yorkshire Post exclusively that the new train will be the only remaining InterCity125 in Britain to retain its kitchen and buffet car., meaning that passengers on the Settle to Carlisle line will be able to experience the first dining train that has traversed the scenic route since 1975.

Settle Station will be one of the calling points

Staycation Express services using the new train - which will be painted in a classic racing green livery to blend in with its surroundings - begin in July and run until early September, with directors considering extending the season to include October half-term and the Christmas holidays this year.

Last summer a shuttle ran, but now the 125 - travelling at a more sedate 60mph - will operate along the full length of the route between Skipton and Carlisle, with stops at Settle and Appleby.

Flexible ticketing arrangements mean travellers can 'mix and match' with Northern's regular timetabled services if they wish to use smaller stations such as Dent or Ribblehead, and customers are encouraged to arrive at Skipton by train from Leeds, Bradford or York using a special extended ticket.

"Last year, we had ordinary stock, but now we have a dedicated InterCity125 that has just come off the lease from Great Western. We have reconfigured it so all the carriages will be first class. They will have large, leather reclining seats, table booths, and perspex screens to create private bays. This is for Covid security, but we will keep them permanently as they create more privacy and a compartment feel which is similar to European trains," said Mr Quine.

Blea Moor signal box is one of the most remote in Britain

"There will be plenty of power points and large windows that line up with the seats. We're not trying to compete with a steam charter, but this is a comfy, luxury train, similar to the sightseeing services that travel through the Alps and the Rockies.

"The kitchen will serve real ale and local produce, it will be a proper buffet car."

The timetable has been tinkered with after lessons were learned last year - Friday journeys have been dropped as they proved unpopular, and Sunday running introduced instead. The shuttle, with its numerous departure times, has been replaced with two daily return trips along the full route between Saturday and Thursday. The new timings give travellers up to two hours in Carlisle or ample time to explore Appleby and take part in an onward tour of the Lake District.

Ticket sales go live this weekend when the new Staycation Express website is launched, with the first train scheduled to depart at 11am on Saturday July 17.

"We may extend the season into late September, but the schedule for our whole company is intensive and it depends on the availability of drivers and crews. We'll see how it goes and then look at potentially running in October and at Christmas too.

"We're working closely with Northern again, they have been very supportive. We have joint ticketing, so you can do one leg on our service and the other with Northern, and there is a fixed price add-on from stations such as Leeds and Bradford to Skipton to take cars off the road.

"We see ourselves as complementary rather than competitive - it's a very different service. Walkers who want to get off at the smaller stations can still use Northern but then come back with us and relax with a gin and tonic!

"Last summer, 90 per cent of our passengers were families and tourists, and many were from the local area and just wanted a day out. With a good on-board service on a lovely line, it becomes a visitor attraction in itself rather than a rail tour."