He has been responsible for a succession of major developments which has seen a rail route carving through some of Yorkshire’s most beautiful countryside become the most successful heritage line in the world.
But today, when Philip Benham, the managing director of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR), hands over the railway to re-enactors at the annual Wartime Weekend, the ceremony will be tinged with sadness.
For it will be his last act after serving at the helm of the railway for more than a decade.
On Sunday, when the re-enactors hand it back, it will be to his successor, Chris Price.
“This has been the most fantastic job, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my career,” Mr Benham said. “But after 12 years, it is time to look to the future. We need new ideas and that will come with Chris.”
Having spent 47 years working with British Rail, managing operations at main line stations from London to Scotland, coming to a heritage railway was both a challenge and rewarding for Mr Benham.
It had grown from the brainchild of small group of people who wished to see the Grosmont to Pickering line - a victim of Dr Beeching’s cuts - brought back to life in 1967, to dozens of staff and many more volunteers after the opening the North Yorkshire Moors Railway in 1973. But the period under Mr Benham has perhaps seen some of the most ambitious changes on the railway.
In 2007, the Golden Age of Steam returned to Whitby the route was allowed to expand beyond Grosmont, allowing a 24-mile run from Pickering, and for the first time, heritage trains ran on the national network - something that is still not replicated elsewhere in the country.
Major fundraising campaigns and grant-sourcing were key to several other developments - such as the £2.3m construction of a second platform at Whitby, and the £800,000 replacement of a bridge between Grosmont and Goathland.
The reinstatement of the roof on Pickering Station, taking it back to its original 1840s glory and including a new learning, archives and visitor centre, was also a landmark in Mr Benham’s career as director.
There have been many more developments that have perhaps been less headline-grabbing but no less important, such as the introduction of an artist in residence at Levisham Station, seeing the railway brought into the hearts of children around the world as a star of the Harry Potter films, and carrying the Olympic Torch from Whitby to Pickering in 2012.
“These achievements reflect a huge amount of work by our volunteers and paid staff, and it is their dedication and commitment that has brought the Railway to where it is today,” Mr Benham said.
Retirement will not see him turn away from the railways completely, as he will remain as chairman of the Friends of the National Railway Museum and vice-chairman of the Gresley Society, which is dedicated to the work of the locomotive engineer. A lifetime photographer’s pass on the NYMR will also ensure he comes back.
“Being part of the most visited heritage railway in the world is something I am very proud of,” he said. “I am looking forward to be able to come along just for the joy of travelling on the trains.”
The chairman of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Trust paid tribute to Mr Benham, saying his vast experience is rarely found today.
John Bailey said: “A sad effect of what has happened in the railway industry is that what we don’t see now is the rounded railwayman - and that is what we had in Philip. It has been a privilege to work with someone who had such broad training in railway operation, and we have benefitted greatly from his experience.
“He has faced many challenges, what you could only expect from a heritage railway with no capital funding, but he’s done it with unflailing tact, tolerance and determination. Philip leaves a much better railway than what he inherited.”