Steam rail link back after 42 years

TO the shrill sound of bagpipes and the beat of drums, a special steam train puffed into Whitby station to mark the return of a direct rail link with the town from Pickering for the first time in 42 years.

There was a carnival atmosphere at the station on Tuesday afternoon as locals and tourists gathered eagerly to await the train and give its 450 passengers – North York Moors Railway (NYMR) shareholders and invited dignitaries including Whitby’s mayor and mayoress, and Lord Crathorne, the Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire – a warm welcome.

The station was decked out in colourful red, white and blue bunting and flags and some people dressed in 19th Century costume including railway enthusiast, Stuart Naylor from Grove Street in Whitby.

He wore Victorian dress to mark the occasion and mingled with the crowd who were entertained by The Richmond Pipes and Drum Band.

He said: “I think it’s absolutely marvellous.

“It’s going to be very, very good for the town.

“It’s nice to get it all together again.

“There are people coming from all over the place just to look and to see and to enjoy what we’ve got now.”

Whitby Mayor, Coun Stacey Daniels, said the journey had been a fantastic experience and the new service into Whitby will bring wonderful benefits to the town.

On board, Coun Daniels got to learn about how the development is expected to boost the town’s tourism and the moors railway, which used some of its revenue to restructure the line.

“It’s nice being on a steam train. It takes you back in time,” said Coun Daniels.

“It means more tourism for Whitby and locals will be able to get to Pickering.

“It would be very nice if the line could go on to Malton again.

“The NYMR has so many volunteers who give time willingly with great and popular results. It has really grown over the years.”

The North York Moors Railway has extended its service six miles from its northern terminus at Grosmont and it has become the first heritage railway to be allowed to run its trains over Network Rail tracks on the Esk Valley line which connects Whitby with Middlesbrough.

The new service has been made possible with the granting of a passenger licence, allowing the NYMR to operate trains crewed by volunteers over part of the Esk Valley line.

The work, which was paid for with the help of an EU grant, involved included making alterations to signalling at Grosmont, allowing them to be easier to run.

The Whitby to Pickering line first opened in 1836 thanks to railway pioneer George Stephenson and for almost 130 years trains travelled over the pictureseque moors, linking the town with the south until most of the line was shut down in 1965 under Dr Richard Beeching’s controversial cost-cutting measures.

In 1973, the preserved railway succeeded in re-opening a section of line between Pickering as a tourist attraction but the volunteer drivers were not able to use the national network to go into Whitby.

The service re-opens today with the first service to Whitby out of Pickering at 8.45am although there will be no daily services – trains will instead run on 105 days to the end of October which is likely to increase in the future.

In order to be given permission to operate on the line, the NYMR had to demonstrate to Network Rail and the regulators it could run safe and reliable services.

It then had to negotiate contracts to get access to Network Rail track.

Last year the railway transported around 20,000 people on a pilot service carrying passengers on shuttle connections to Whitby over 50 days but as a whole it carried a whopping 300,000 passengers .

The engine which towed Tuesday’s train was a 1949 62005 K1 class called Lord of the Isles.

Ironically, it was one of two that pulled the last train out of Whitby to Pickering on 6 March 1965.

General manager of NYMR, Philip Benham, said he believes the new service will not only be an important attraction in its own right but will help the expansion of tourism in both Whitby and the North York Moors National Park.

And he added that by using the new trains, visitors will also avoid adding to the area’s traffic congestion which is worsening, especially during the summer months.

“Thanks to all the people who have helped this happen,” he said.