How the dream became reality, 50 years on

A DECADE before Dr Beeching cut a swathe through Britain's railways in the 1960s, the writing was already on the wall for passenger train services in Wensleydale.

Even in 1954, the number of people travelling on the 40-mile line linking Northallerton with Garsdale Head had dwindled dramatically.

On April 24 in that year, British Railways pulled the plug on passenger services on the line, and though it continued to carry freight for several years its days were numbered. Eventually the track was ripped up west of Redmire and by the late 1980s just a single train a week used the remaining line, transporting limestone from the quarry above Redmire to a steelworks at Redcar.

But in 1990, a year after the Government had reprieved the Settle-Carlisle line from closure, enthusiasts turned their thoughts to the possibility of restoring its link with the East Coast main line at Northallerton –and the Wensleydale Railway Association was born.

In 1992, British Steel announced plans to switch the transport of limestone from Redmire from rail to road. A wave of opposition won a six-month delay to the proposal, but the steel company later decided to abandon Redmire quarry in favour of transporting limestone to Redcar by rail from Cumbria. In December 1992, the last limestone train ran and the 22-mile section of remaining line was mothballed.

The following month, the association established the Wensleydale Railway Company as its business and development arm to negotiate with BR to buy the line. It set out to raise 600,000 through the issue of special track certificates. In September 1993, the association submitted a bid to buy the line from the British Railways Property Board.

Later that year, the campaign received a fillip when the Ministry of Defence announced it was to investigate the use of the line for transporting tracked vehicles to and from Catterick Garrison. In November, a train carrying 19 armoured personnel carrier travelled the line as part of the MoD trial and the line was taken off the market.

In September 1995, it was confirmed that the line between Northallerton and Redmire was to be brought back into use by the Army and work started three months later on a 750,000 upgrade. The first military train ran in July, 1996, a new permanent railhead and siding at Redmire being used for the first time.

The association launched a 500,000 appeal to upgrade the line for passenger traffic, as well as reinstating the track between Redmire and Bolton Castle.

By 2000, the Wensleydale Railway Company had bought the stations at Leeming Bar, Leyburn and Aysgarth and it became the Wensleydale Railway plc with a 2.5m share issue. Negotiations started to secure the line from Railtrack on a 99-year lease.

In April this year, a lease was finally signed with Railtrack's successor Network Rail and the rail regulator issued the required running licences leaving the way open for yesterday's first trains.

The association is determined to continue the campaign to restore the entire line and it is confident that the project can be completed in 10 years.