Volunteers hope The Railway Children will put historic railway 'back on the map'

Volunteers who run the famous Yorkshire railway line where The Railway Children was shot more than 50 years ago believe the sequel can put it “back on the map”.

A scene from The Railway Children, released in 1970, that was filmed on Keighley & Worth Valley Railway

A film crew have begun shooting The Railway Children Return this week and they plan to use several locations from the original film, including the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway line and Oakworth and Howarth stations.

Some of the volunteers at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society, which runs the 5-mile long heritage railway line, were on hand to help the crew that filmed the original and they are excited to assist with the sequel and welcome back Jenny Agutter, who will reprise her role as Roberta Waterbury.

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When the charity was facing a fight for survival in 2020, after the Covid-19 pandemic forced it to close down the line and halt all of the steam-train passenger services, the actress was a vocal supporter who urged people to make a donation to the ‘Worth Saving’ appeal, which raised over £300,000.

A train at Oakworth on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway

Rebecca Atkins, Commercial Manager at Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, said: “It’s very special for the volunteers that were actually featured in the original, who are still volunteering on the railway 50 years later, and hopefully we will potentially see them in the new one.

“We have no idea, but hopefully they might make a few cameos and this time we can use the film and the love of the film to reignite a love of the railway again for those future generations.”

She added: “We do receive a small contribution for it, but for us it's more about putting us back on the map.

“It's an absolutely stunning place. That's what we really want to show people again, especially those who have forgotten that we're here.”

Actor Bernard Cribbens with actresses, Sally Thomsett (left) and Jenny Agutter in The Railway Children

Keighley & Worth Valley Railway was approached by film production company StudioCanal about the sequel over two years ago, but the volunteers had to keep it under wraps until the announcement was made last week.

The film crew, led by BAFTA winning director Morgan Matthews, are expected to be there for six to eight weeks this summer.

A 50th anniversary celebration of the release of the original film, which was postponed last year, is also due to go ahead this year after the railway reopens to passengers for the summer season.

The railway, which originally opened in 1867, is an attractive location for crews looking to shoot period dramas and it has featured in several well-known films and TV shows, including Peaky Blinders, The Great Train Robbery, A Touch of Frost, and Testament Of Youth.

Ms Atkins said: “Our look is very unique. It's very British, very Yorkshire.

“I always refer to us as sort of a living museum. We do operate the way that we would have done then and you can feel like you are back at that point in time, which is quite special, particularly for an older generation.

“There's also something very special about the Yorkshire location and the railways location itself.

“Everything that we do is done meticulously to preserve the heritage of what has been in the valley for 150 years.

“I think the railway itself holds quite a special memory for Jenny and also for other people that have filmed with us in the past in multiple different films that we are kind of a location that once you've been here, you can't help but fall in love.”

In The Railway Children Return, which is due to be released in UK cinemas on April 1 in 2022, Mrs Agutter, who is now 68, will star alongside Sheridan Smith and Sir Tom Courtenay.

Studio Canal says it will “take audiences on an exciting and heart-warming journey” and bring “contemporary sensibility to a classic story”.

It is about a group of children who are evacuated to a Yorkshire village during World War 2, where they encounter a young soldier who is also far away from home.

The original, released in 1970, told the story of Roberta (Bobbie), Peter and Phyllis, who are forced to leave their comfortable London home when their father, who works at the Foreign Office, is imprisoned after being wrongly accused of selling state secrets.

The children and their mother are plunged into poverty and they move to a cottage in the countryside, but they go on to enjoy a series of adventures at the nearby train line with some colourful local characters.

It is based on a book that was written by Edith Nesbit and first published in 1906.