The man who saved the Settle to Carlisle Line from closure has died

The Flying Scotsman hauling a steam charter train over Ribblehead Viaduct
The Flying Scotsman hauling a steam charter train over Ribblehead Viaduct
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The British Rail project manager who was appointed to try to close Yorkshire's most scenic rail route has died.

Ron Cotton was expected to recommend the Settle to Carlisle line's closure when he was given the role in the 1980s - but instead, the career railwayman was so inspired by its potential that he secured its future and it remains an operational mainline route today.

A freight train crosses Ribblehead Viaduct

A freight train crosses Ribblehead Viaduct

Mr Cotton took on the job at a time when the line, which runs through some of the most scenic and hostile terrain in Britain, was suffering from low usage and a lack of investment. It had been earmarked to be 'wound down', and all of the stations other than Settle and Appleby had shut in 1970.

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In 1981, it became clear that British Rail's intention was to withdraw passenger services and keep only small sections of the route open to serve quarries. The iconic Ribblehead Viaduct was in poor condition and repair costs had been projected to be crippling.

However, the campaign by local volunteers to save the line after closure notices were posted at stations in 1984 uncovered evidence of 'stealth' tactics by British Rail, which included exaggerating repair costs and deliberately diverting freight traffic away from the route to manipulate the usage figures.

Ron Cotton instead began a marketing campaign to promote the line for tourism - he had a background in marketing and ran special trains for walkers under the Dalesrail brand. Passenger numbers began to rise and the line was reprieved in 1989.

Since then, the 72-mile route has prospered and now attracts record number of passengers. Eight stations have re-opened and it is hugely popular with steam charter excursion trains and it remains an important freight line. Network Rail has invested in track and signal upgrades and it is used as a diversion for West Coast Main Line traffic.

Then-transport secretary Michael Portillo also played a key role in saving the line, commissioning a review of British Rail's decision. He later said it was one of the most important policy decisions he ever made.

In 2012, 1.2million passenger journeys were made, compared to 90,000 in 1983.

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Ron retained his links with the line after retiring, and became a member of the support group Friends of Settle to Carlisle. In 2009, he was invited to unveil a statue of the dog Ruswarp at the re-opening of Garsdale Station. Ruswarp belonged to the Friends group's founder Graham Nuttall, and famously stayed by his owner's side for 11 weeks after Nuttall died in 1990 while out walking in winter conditions in the Welsh mountains. Ruswarp died shortly after Nuttall's funeral.

A statement from the Settle to Carlisle Railway Development Company read:-

"This is very sad news for all of us. Ron was probably the reason we are here today. A debt is owed by all of us that love the line, he will not be forgotten."