Rail enthusiasts saved little gem from oblivion

THE Keighley and Worth Valley Railway is renowned as a tiny gem, cramming some of Yorkshire’s most picturesque views into a bare five miles of track.

The privately-owned railway is a magnet for film-makers, tourists, steam enthusiasts and historians – but it nearly suffered the same fate as dozens of branch lines judged “unremunerative” in the 1950s and 60s.

The fact that it is now a thriving business and tourist attraction is down to a meeting 40 years ago this week between local government officer Ralph Povey and young lecturer Bob Cryer.

The pair had campaigned separately against British Rail’s plans to close the line in 1961 to no avail. They met for the first time at the now-demolished Temperance Hall, Keighley, where 100 people gathered to discuss British Rail’s final decision to close it at the end of December 1961.

Mr Povey, 79, of Yate Lane, Oxenhope, said it was at that meeting that they realised enough people cared about the line to form a society to buy and run it.

He said: “At the time the idea was to run it for local people and commuters, but looking back it was inevitable people would turn away from the railways because people were buying cars and getting more mobile.”

Undeterred, the pair organised another meeting in March 1962, and the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society was formed, more than 150 members joining within a week.

It was six years before they had raised the 45,000 needed to buy the land and track and completed negotiations with BR, and by that time the businesses and commuters who had relied on the line had found other ways of getting around.

On June 29, 1968, the society opened the weekend service for tourists which is still in operation, now with extra weekday trains during the summer and Christmas holidays.

As well as the immaculate Edwardian Oakworth station, setting for the film The Railway Children, the line now also boasts 30 steam and a dozen diesel engines, a vintage set of coaches and a real Victorian station at Ingrow West, transported stone by stone from a disused line at Foulridge, Colne.

A grant of almost 600,000 last year from the Heritage Lottery fund paid for renovations to Oxenhope station and new carriage sheds.

Mr Povey, who is still a society member, paid tribute to Mr Cryer, who was the popular Labour MP for Keighley and later Bradford South before being killed in a car crash seven years ago, and said the project would not have succeeded without him.

He said: “He was only in his 20s at the time we started the society but none of us ever realised how young he was because he had that certain something, a kind of confidence, which doesn’t normally come to the young.”

Mr Povey said he was not disappointed that the railway had not become a regular commuter line again.

He said: “The fact that it is there at all has been a good thing for the economy of the district and a great hobby for those of us who have worked on it.”