72 miles of track, 20 viaducts and 14 tunnels…we hope you enjoy reading our brief history of the line…
Welcome to Settle-Carlisle country. The line is probably the most scenic railway journey in England. It has survived two attempts to close it – once in the early 1960s and later in the 1980s. Both attempts caused local and national outrage. However, fortunes have now changed as millions of pounds have been spent upgrading tracks and stations. The line opened in 1876 – we hope the line is here for many more generations to come.
To help you understand the context of the line, it is necessary to go back in history to the 1860s. With the main East and West Coast Main Lines in place serving the key Anglo-Scottish market, the growing Midland Railway was encountering substantial problems in gaining co-operation from its rival companies. At that time there was only sharing of tracks by operators if they agreed because each company built, maintained and ran their own lines. The key rival prior to the Settle-Carlisle line is the London & North Western Railway, who met the Midland Railway at Ingleton, just a few miles from Settle. The Midland would request that its goods and passengers be carried by the London & North Western from there to Carlisle and Scotland. This ‘agreement’ was tenuous at the best of times and various sources recall tales of Midland passengers having their coaches attached to slow-moving coal trains for the journey to Carlisle, along with other devious tricks.
By 1865, the Midland had thought of the concept of the Settle-Carlisle and developed it. It applied to Parliament, and a Bill was passed to enable the line to be built. However, it seems that by 1869 relations had improved with the London & North Western and the Midland applied to Parliament for an Abandonment Bill so that they did not have to construct the line. Such was the high opinion of the Midland and its plans by the local population that Parliament refused the abandonment petition and the Midland were almost forced to build the line. Faced with this, one would have thought that the Midland would do things half-heartedly but as I am sure you will see, this is by no means the case at all. The relationship with the London & North Western deteriorated over time, so it was a good thing that the line was built in the way that it was.
The line is engineered to follow the natural pathways through the hills of the Pennines. That is because the line was also designed for high-speed running to compete for Anglo-Scottish passengers. As a result, the local population were perhaps not as well served as they might have been. Examples of this are at Dent where the station is some 4 miles and 600 feet higher than the village it purports to serve, and Kirkby Stephen, 1½ miles away from its namesake market town.
Construction began in 1869 and lasted for seven long years with about 6,000 men working on the line – the last main line railway in England constructed almost entirely by hand. Memorials along the line, especially that at Chapel-le-Dale, near Ribblehead, commemorate the lives of some of the men who died building the line. Many died through outbreaks of smallpox, as well as those injured or killed during construction.
The line opened to passengers on the 1st of May 1876 and since then has stood the test of time. The Midland Railway became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) in 1923 when the small railway companies came together to form four large railway companies. These were in turn nationalised in 1948 to become British Railways, later British Rail.
In 1968, mainline steam ended in the UK and the service became entirely diesel-operated. Steam was not to stay away for long as charter trains were permitted again within a decade. However, all of the local stations except Settle and Appleby closed in 1970. In 1981, it became apparent that there were proposals to close the line to passengers and to retain short sections to serve industrial sites. The key problem seemed to be the cost of repairing and waterproofing Ribblehead viaduct as it was then in a poor condition. BR suggested alternative bridges including a suspension bridge, however repairs were eventually made and the structure is entirely safe now. It is properly seen as the symbol of the line, and its resilience to closure. BR’s figures to support the closure proposal were at best misleading, particularly as it had diverted trains away from the route to make the case for retaining the line worse. A new manager, Ron Cotton, was appointed as project manager for BR to close the line. He attracted many passengers to use the line, and local stations were reopened in 1986 following a series of walkers’ charter trains operated under the DalesRail banner since 1975. With considerable public protest and a huge rise in passenger numbers, in 1989 the Government declared that the line should stay open.
If you would like to learn more about the saving of the Settle to Carlisle Railway, we have a DVD available in our online shop, which was created to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Saving the Settle to Carlisle Railway.
Since 1989, a considerable amount of work has been done along the line in upgrading stations and facilities, the highlight being Ribblehead station which had stood derelict for many years – it is now an award winning visitor centre.
In the 72 miles between Settle and Carlisle there are 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts. The service today comprises diesel trains with occasional steam and diesel charter trains, and frequent freight trains. Less coal is being hauled from Scotland to the Yorkshire power stations as coal-powered energy is being phased out. There are regular wood trains and some gypsum traffic to Kirkby Thore, north of Appleby.
If you are going to be traveling on the Settle to Carlisle Railway line, we highly recommend that you take a look at our Guide Book that is available to purchase from our online shop.
The remainder of the information on this website will provide you with details of the line. We hope you enjoy your journey.