This is how re-opening the Harrogate - Northallerton line could link 10 cities to Leeds Bradford Airport

A retired railway worker has explained how re-opening a stretch of line in Yorkshire axed by Beeching in the 1960s could link 10 towns and cities to Leeds Bradford Airport.

The line between Harrogate, Ripon and Northallerton - an extension of the current Leeds to Harrogate route - was closed as part of the Beeching cuts and Ripon lost its station.

The existing section of the line that remains operational between Leeds and Harrogate is just 1km from Leeds Bradford Airport when it passes Horsforth, and there have been several proposals to build a new parkway station on the route to serve the airport.

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But Adrian Caltieri, a former signalman who worked at Garforth Station and now lives in Northallerton, has pointed out that reinstating the northern part of the original railway would hugely expand connectivity for passengers using Leeds Bradford.

The old Ripon Station building has been converted into flats and housing built around the siteThe old Ripon Station building has been converted into flats and housing built around the site
The old Ripon Station building has been converted into flats and housing built around the site

This is why it will be difficult to re-open old railways in Yorkshire under a 'reverse Beeching' schemeOpening up the Harrogate - Northallerton stretch again would give direct access to trains from Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough - allowing Leeds Bradford to better compete with Manchester Airport.

Adrain, who is now a tutor for the Institute of Railway Operators degree course, also advocates re-opening two other closed lines in the area that would work in tandem with Leeds - Northallerton services.

He suggests reinstating the Leeds - Otley stretch of the line between Leeds and Ilkley via Headingley, which was also axed by Beeching. In the 1960s, there were two competing routes between Leeds and Ilkley originally built by rival companies in the 19th century, but Beeching opted to close one of the duplicates, retaining the line via Guiseley and the Aire Valley, which meant Otley Station was closed.

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He also recommends re-opening the Leeds to Wetherby line, which would serve commuter demand and potentially reduce pressure on the Leeds to York route, as Wetherby Station was also on a line from Harrogate to Church Fenton that shut during the 1960s cuts. Having lost both its lines, Wetherby Station was mothballed and the site is now a car park.

"From my perspective, Leeds to Otley via Horsforth, Harrogate to Northallerton and Leeds to Wetherby are all serious contenders for re-opening.

"The Wetherby lines were either sabotaged or neglected by British Railways. Wetherby had three commuter trains to Leeds in the morning but only one return. Helpfully, a rail ticket was valid on the competing bus!

"The resources were sufficient for a half-hourly service all day between Leeds and Wetherby, yet only five trains operated. Had the Leeds - Wetherby survived until the creation of West Yorkshire PTE in 1974 it would still be there today, almost certainly electrified and possibly with through trains from Bradford.

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"The Leeds - Harrogate - Northallerton route is a lost opportunity. North of Horsforth, the line is within 1km of the runway at Leeds Bradford Airport and as identified by others, a shuttle bus could operate between a station at this site and the terminal.

"If Harrogate - Northallerton was re-opened then Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Leeds, Harrogate, Ripon, Northallerton, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle and Middlesbrough could have direct trains to Leeds Bradford Airport. In addition all these locations plus Manchester and Manchester Airport could be directly linked with Harrogate and its conference centre.

"Re-opening would also create a diversionary route between York and Northallerton where currently there is no rail diversionary route for engineering work or incidents on the East Coast Main Line. Re-opening this route could relieve some of the existing congestion on the Leeds - York route, thereby creating capacity for trains to Wetherby. Leeds - Harrogate could have capacity for six trains per hour; so, two to LBA and Otley, two to Northallerton and then Middlesbrough or Newcastle (and Ripon gets its trains back) and two to York via Harrogate."

How feasible would it be to replace the old tracks?

The main obstacle on the section between Harrogate and Ripon is the Ripon bypass, which was built over the old line. If rebuilt, a new railway could not follow the same path to the old Ripon Station site.

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Adrian suggests following the original alignment as much as possible to ensure quicker journey times. Housebuilding has taken place over the trackbed at Littlethorpe, but a new parkway station could be built beside the bypass if the road was narrowed slightly.

He also believes there would be demand for a park and ride station at Sinderby, where the old line used to cross the A1 - this would allow drivers from Bedale, Richmond and Leyburn to park and board trains to Leeds.

"A detailed feasibility study would be required. Ripon to Northallerton has a filled-in cutting/tunnel at Wormald Green, bridges missing, a light industrial estate at Melmerby, and the new A1(M) crosses the route at Sinderby. It was closed 53 years ago."

In Otley's case, much of the trackbed is intact from Arthington until the A660, to the west of the town. There has been housebuilding at Pool so a diversion around this development would be required. The A660 site would be ideal for a parkway station, but the complication of the new housing at Pool could make the reinstatement too expensive to justify if it served just one town.