After 108 years, bridge that came second-hand finally runs out of steam

IT WAS in 1909 that a crane from Leeds arrived in the North York Moors village of Goathland to haul into place a riveted steel bridge that would carry the rail track over the beck.

A 2.5m appeal has been launched to secure the future of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Picture: Charlotte Graham

The branch line to Whitby was a backwater even then, and the structure they brought in to replace the previous wooden bridge was already second-hand.

As he stood on the station platform yesterday to launch an appeal for its replacement, the line’s present-day manager reflected that all things considered, it had not done too badly.

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The underbridge at the south end of the station, on what has been for the last half-century the North Yorkhire Moors Railway, is one of four its trustees say need replacing or repairing if the line is to be fit for the next 50 years.

Goathland Station. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Goathland is one of the most filmed stations in the country, having doubled as Hogsmeade in the Harry Potter movies - it was where Hagrid welcomed the young wizards off the Hogwarts Express - and Aidensfield in the TV series Heartbeat. Yet the 1909 bridge will have been scarcely noticed by the fans who come in their thousands to pay homage.

Unlike the rustic cast iron footbridge that sits over the track and which has been the backdrop to a million souvenir photographs, the underbridge can be most kindly described as workmanlike.

“It’s described in the network just as a steel structure,” said Chris Price, the railway’s general manager.

“People often don’t even see it because it runs under the line. It was somewhere else on the north eastern railway before 1909 - we don’t know where. They would have craned it out of somewhere.

Goathland Station. Picture: Charlotte Graham

“But it hasn’t done badly to last until 2017.”

Mr Price was launching a £2.5m appeal for public donations towards a £9.2m “sustainability project” that will see the four bridges renewed and the installation of a covered shed for the railway’s 40 vintage carriages - some from the original Flying Scotsman. The Heritage Lottery Fund has already promised £4.6m towards the total.

Historical documents indicate that the Goathland bridge was hauled in from Stanningley in Leeds as part of a programme of bridge improvements by the old North Eastern Railway. It remained part of the national network until the Beeching axe fell in the 1960s.

A preservation society was set up in 1967 to return the Moors line to steam, and the first private trains ran in 1973. The line is now estimated to be worth £35m to the tourist economy of the North York Moors.

But after half a century, the 1000-plus volunteers needed keep it on track are getting harder to find - so the new money will also finance a hostel to tempt more in from outside the area.

“In my father’s generation, people retired at 54 - that’s not happening any more,” Mr Price said. “They would then go on to volunteer at heritage railways. Now we’ve got to look elsewhere, and not everyone can afford hotels or B&Bs while they’re here. So if we can supply decent accommodation for them at low or zero cost, that’s a hurdle removed.”

But he added: “It was the repair of the two bridges and the replacement of the other two that drove us into the project. It’s our opportunity to move the railway on and set it up for the next 50 years.”

Supporters of the railway are being invited to pledge donations online.

The money will go towards eight initiatives, including “fuss-free” access to carriages, better service for school and family groups and an apprenticeship programme, as well as the bridge repairs, carriage shed and hostel for volunteers.

John Bailey, chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors Historical Railway Trust, said the funding “should ensure that, 50 years hence, people will still be learning from and enjoying the experience of steam across the Moors.”