The old Yorkshire Dales station that will become a businessman's private hobby railway

Aysgarth's new owner, David Smith, says he will explore the possibility of restoring the historic link to the Wensleydale Railway heritage line
Aysgarth's new owner, David Smith, says he will explore the possibility of restoring the historic link to the Wensleydale Railway heritage line
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The owner of a heritage railway touring company will be able to use an abandoned station in the Dales for his personal pleasure.

West Coast Railways chairman David Smith bought Aysgarth Station when previous owners the Wensleydale Railway - a preserved heritage line - could no longer afford to maintain it.

He applied for permission to re-lay track and perform minor locomotive movements at the site and it has now been granted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The decision means that Smith will have his own private railway shunting yard - although he intends to open it to the public once a year.

He has also told the Wensleydale Railway that he will explore the possibility of reinstating an old stretch of the line that ran from Northallerton to Garsdale via Aysgarth - a project the previous owners had never been able to bring to fruition.

Smith's company is now the UK's largest operator of steam charter excursions, many of which run through Yorkshire. He is also a farmer with land at Staintondale, near Scarborough.

Wensleydale Railway 'back on track' after Aysgarth Station sale decision
Aysgarth - the historic station that became a white elephant

Aysgarth was a mainline station until its closure in 1954 and although the Wensleydale Railway then took on responsibility for it, they were never able to re-open it. The buildings were converted into a holiday let for a time, but the tracks were not re-laid. Smith has acquired the old track bed.

He hopes to restore the station buildings and site to their original Victorian condition, while storing locomotives and rolling stock on the reinstated tracks.

Wensleydale Railway director Steven Davis described Smith as 'the best possible buyer' for the site, which had an outstanding annual mortgage of £200,000 that had become impossible for them to repay. The building was also in a poor state of repair.

The old Dent Station on the Settle to Carlisle Line is for sale
In 2018, Davis told the Yorkshire Post that Aysgarth's disposal was necessary to save the heritage line, which was declining in popularity as a visitor attraction.

“We were maintaining the railway for the nation, but the nation wasn’t using it. We had to bite the bullet. Had the trustees not agreed, the railway would have been scrapped. We have bought time to get this railway back on track. And although we have sold Aysgarth, our expansion ambitions have not gone.”

The 100-year lease that the enthusiasts signed with Network Rail has proved financially restrictive, as they are obliged under its terms to maintain 22 miles of track.

Fears over disturbance and noise in peaceful Aysgarth

Objections initially came from those who thought the development would cause disruption to the natural environment of the Aysgarth Falls area.

Yet Smith will only be allowed to move trains on 36 days of the year, and has offered to provide a footpath running alongside the yard to allow members of the public a viewpoint - the site is close to that of the Falls visitor centre.

Posting on online forums, supporters of the Wensleydale Railway also expressed fears that if Smith was to link Aysgarth back to the line, he would run it as an independent West Coast Railways route in an area of the Dales popular with tourists, potentially taking custom away from the Wensleydale Railway. Some of the stations currently served by the heritage line, such as Leeming Bar, are not in 'honeypot' areas - whereas tranquil Aysgarth has plenty of draws for visitors.

David Smith did not respond to a request for an interview about his plans for Aysgarth.

Who are West Coast Railways?

They company has been running heritage charter services on the mainline since 1998, and have a depot and maintenance base at Carnforth, on the site of a former visitor attraction called Steamtown. They were the first private company to be granted a licence to run trains on the rail network, although a number of rivals have since followed their lead. They own several steam and vintage diesel locomotives, some of which are hired to other operators.

In 2015, West Coast were hit with a suspension after a frightening near-miss involving one of their excursions in Wiltshire. Their Cathedrals Express service over-ran a signal at danger, and narrowly avoided a collision with a London-bound high-speed express travelling at 100mph on the Great Western Main Line. The company was handed the first-ever ban from the entire UK rail network, although this was lifted a month later once Network Rail were satisfied that safety improvements were being made. The driver of the train involved was later convicted of health and safety offences.

A further track access ban lasting several weeks was issued in 2016 over further safety concerns.

Last September, the Office of Rail Regulation renewed West Coast's safety certificate for five years following an extensive review of their practices.