We all know that English railfans are the most fanatical of all, having spread out like the British Empire to all corners of the globe.
Even when I went to a remote part of China, rarely visited by any westerners, I met a UK fan seeking steam action.
According to what I can discover, the Settle & Carlisle has a reputation as one of the most scenic of English Rail Lines. I have to say, compared to some of the lines I have seen, it appears pretty tame.
Watch the video below of regular steam action back in the days and tell me what you think.
The Settle & Carlisle 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.
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.
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.
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.
In the 72 miles between Settle and Carlisle there are 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts. The service today comprises modern diesel trains with occasional steam and diesel charter trains, and frequent freight trains. These are predominantly coal from Scotland traveling to Yorkshire power stations, with gypsum traffic to Kirkby Thore, north of Appleby and engineering trains as well.
Exerpts taken from the Settle & Carlisle Tourist Railway website