Hogwarts Express rail enthusiast gets private station plan approved in Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Hogwarts Express. PIC: John Hun
The Hogwarts Express. PIC: John Hun
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The railway enthusiast who saved the Harry Potter films’ Hogwarts Express from a scrapyard has had his plan to re-lay track at a defunct station to shunt diesel and steam locomotives mainly for his private enjoyment approved.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has approved David Smith’s scheme despite concerns over its impact on the tranquility of the national park, the wildlife of a nature reserve and visitors to the Aysgarth Falls tourism hotspot.

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The authority’s planning committee heard the project to “recreate the atmosphere of a country station” at Aysgarth represented the best chance of reinstating the Wensleydale Railway from Northallerton to Garsdale, starting with the stretch from Redmire to Aysgarth.

Mr Smith runs West Coast Railways, Britain’s largest operator of heritage steam trains.

The meeting heard Aysgarth Station was part of the Hawes Branch of the North-Eastern Railway from its opening in 1878 until its closure in 1954 and Mr Smith intended to restore it as close to its original condition as is practicable.

Members were told Mr Smith’s scheme would contribute to conserving the park’s cultural heritage.

Planning agent and Wensleydale Railway director Steven Davis said the heritage line had sold Aysgarth Station “to the best possible buyer” last year, and the project would go some way towards healing “some of the wounds” remaining from those opposed to the sale.

He said: “Wensleydale Railway was in a significantly difficult financial situation. Aysgarth was a major millstone around our necks. We were servicing a £200,000 outstanding mortgage.

“The station building was falling down and there was absolutely no way that the station could be retained as part of the commercial portfolio of the railway. The sale of the station allowed the railway to pay off significant debts and it is a fact that since that sale we have not looked back.

“We believe this presents the best possible opportunity to reconnect Aysgarth with Redmire. Mr Smith has the resources and personal ambition to start taking the track back towards Redmire.”

However, members were told the scheme would have an impact on highly visible protected trees and The Woodland Trust had objected to the proposal as it was beside an ancient woodland designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

A trust spokesman said it was “concerned about the potential impacts of noise and light pollution on the ancient woodland from the operation of steam trains, as well as an increase in nitrogen emissions from the use of diesel trains. Furthermore, operation of the trains will result in strong vibrations which will disturb sensitive species within the ancient woodland.”

The authority’s natural environment champion Ian McPherson said it was extremely important that the site was rigorously monitored and restrictions that limited Mr Smith to running 12 journeys per day on 36 days a year enforced.

After hearing when the restoration of the station was complete it would hold an annual open day, 12 members voted for the scheme, one abstained and one voted against it.