After 12 years at the helm, the managing director of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway has looked back on his time there as he steps down.
Philip Benham, a self confessed “steam buff”, has overseen many changes at the nation’s busiest steam railway since he took over.
He says the role has been both challenging and rewarding and recalls some of the more notable achievements as including:
l Expansion in 2007 of the run beyond Grosmont to Whitby from 18 to 24 miles
l Growth in visitor numbers to a record of 355,000 in 2010
l The 2014 construction of a second platform at Whitby Station, a £2.3m grant funded scheme to allow more services
l Carrying the Olympic Torch from Whitby to Pickering for the 2012 Games
Philip is keen to emphasise credit should go to others. “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.”
For a railway given the axe in 1965, its fortunes have certainly seen a huge turnaround. He says: “Much of this was due to NYMR’s founding fathers, people like Tom Salmon and Charlie Hart, who both sadly died in the last two years, and Michael Pitts, still happily very much with us.
“If it were not for their vision and determination there would be no North Yorkshire Moors Railway.”
Born in Hillingdon, North London, Philip started work with British Rail in 1968 in the railway town of Derby.
His 47-year career was to take him across the country with the 1980s seeing him move east to be in charge of train operations first at York and then at London’s Kings Cross
Later he was responsible for the East Coast Main line stations from London to Scotland. His wife Lesley comes from Cheshire and runs the office of the Friends of the National Railway Museum in York.
Even as a toddler, Philip remembers pushing red pencils under the carpet, thinking they were Underground trains going into tunnels.
His acquaintance with Yorkshire also began at an early age when he would travel by train from King’s Cross up to Yorkshire on visits to his grandparents, his mother coming from Wakefield.
“Again I remember being captivated by the huge locomotives, some of them streamlined, that hauled our trains.”
The more he visited Yorkshire, the more he came to appreciate its beauty.
When he got the chance to work on the North York Moors he grabbed it with both hands. The combination of the glorious landscape and the fascination of the Railway made it much more than just a job – “It gets into your DNA”.
As for the future, Philip is very positive as he hands over to his successor Chris Price, who previously headed up the Talyllyn narrow gauge railway in mid-Wales.
Philip says: “Chris brings a wide range of skills with plenty of fresh ideas, and I have absolutely no doubt that he will lead NYMR forward to even greater success in the years to come.”
It’s fair to say he’s ready for a change of pace while looking forward to enjoying more time with his family, including visiting some of his favourite spots such as the Thomason Foss waterfall, over which the Eller Beck plunges.
“It’s in the gorge between Beck Hole and Goathland, and, while you can walk to it, the best views are from an NYMR train. It’s beautiful, unspoilt, and spectacular, especially after rain. Catching sight of it as you pass is always appreciated by our passengers” he says.
Then there is writing. In 2008 Philip wrote a book, An Illustrated History of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, an in-depth historical survey of the line which is one of Britain’s oldest passenger railways.
He adds: “It was many years since a full history had been written about our remarkable railway, and this was a chance to present the story afresh. Now I may find time to do some more writing. I might even consider an account of my time at NYMR – warts and all.”
However, railways will always be a very important part of his life.
As chairman of the Friends of the National Railway Museum, and Vice-chairman of the Gresley Society, dedicated to the life and works of the great locomotive engineer, it certainly looks like this will continue to be the case.