Upper Wensleydale Railway: Reinstating branch line to Hawes could 'link Yorkshire Dales with East Coast Main Line'

A move to create multi-user route along a Yorkshire Dales railway line which closed 63 years ago has been agreed in principle amid disagreement over whether the initiative to enable different types of people to enjoy the landscapes would end ambition to reinstate the route for trains.

Members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have also approved launching an extensive public consultation to assess appetite for the scheme along a six-mile stretch of the former Upper Wensleydale Railway branch line between Hawes and Garsdale.

The meeting heard the proposal had already sparked a significant debate among communities in the Dales, but the authority should also seek the views of people living in towns and cities surrounding the park.

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Upper Wensleydale resident Ruth Annison told the meeting the authority’s ambition to be “resilient and responsive to the impacts of climate change” was reflected by its peat restoration and plastics reclamation projects, “but weak on developments in public transport and car-free access to the national park”.

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She said the line between Hawes and Garsdale was the only possible route for a reinstated railway and crucial to fulfil a long-held plan to link the East Coast Mainline in Northallerton with the Settle to Carlisle Railway, whereas the authority had recognised alternative sites for multi-user routes were feasible.

Several members expressed strong support for the reinstatement of the railway, with one describing the Settle to Carlisle line as “a golden thread” running through the park from which the authority could weave an increasingly green tourism enterprise.

The meeting heard feasibility studies had concluded the dismantled route from Redmire to Garsdale could support a railway in future, but action to preserve it while creating a multi-user route would cost millions of pounds extra.

Long-serving member Skipton councillor Robert Heseltine insisted that despite two bids to fund the line’s reinstatement falling flat there was still hope the Hawes to Garsdale line would receive government funding following success of a similar ambition between Colne and his ward.

Wensleydale farmer Allen Kirkbride added: “Once it is converted to a multi-user purpose it will not be allowed again. Once it is gone it is gone.”

However, the debate saw numerous members pour cold water on the ambition, with Richmondshire councillor John Amsden saying the railway would never be rebuilt and highlighting how some farmers and landowners were even opposed to letting the multi-user route cross their land.

The authority’s recreation management member champion, Nick Cotton, a cycle guide author, told members cycle trails along former rail routes were “incredibly popular” as they created places where families could ride safely along easily manageable gradients.

Member Cosima Towneley said by holding out for a reinstated railway the authority was “simply wasting time and wasting a great asset” that could be enjoyed by a host of people, and in particular horse riders who were repeatedly overlooked in favour of cyclists.

After being told the multi-user route would enable many people who are unable to climb over stiles and walk up steep gradients to enjoy the landscapes of the national park, the majority of members agreed the multi-user route would be of benefit to the park’s visitors, economy and communities.

The branch line from Garsdale, on the Settle to Carlisle route, and Hawes closed in the 1950s and Hawes Station is now the Dales Countryside Museum. The trackbed was protected from development and has not been built over.

There was also a connection at Garsdale to the Wensleydale Railway, which nowadays runs as a heritage line between Redmire and Northallerton. There have been ambitious plans in the past to reinstate the section between Redmire and Garsdale, which would allow direct travel from the East Coast Main Line at Northallerton through the Dales.