Iconic rail line’s anniversary is a reminder of what has been lost

The Westmorland Gazette: A steam train passes over Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line A steam train passes over Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line

MICHAEL Portillo failed to convince his Conservative colleagues he could be their party’s leader - but one issue he did show commendable leadership on was the future of the Settle-Carlisle railway.

Had it not been for Mr Portillo’s decision as Transport Minister to save the line, a great example of British civil engineering heritage would have been lost.

Now 25 years later, his faith - and that of the campaigners who fought a six-year battle to save the line - has been demonstrably justified.

Each year, 1.2m passengers travel on what is arguably Britain’s most scenic railway.

But it’s not just about people - saving the line has meant that over the last quarter of a century millions of tonnes of freight have travelled by rail which would otherwise have been moved by road, at a substantial cost to the environment and roads.

Its success has proved the value of our railways, which are an increasingly popular form of transport.

The shame is that such a need was not anticipated back in the 1960s when Dr Beeching took his metaphoric axe to the railways.

Had he and others in the Government shown more foresight, many more branch lines would have been saved - or at least mothballed to give local communities a chance to run them.

Instead, there was a rush from rail to road - and we are living with the consequences of pollution and congestion to this day.

Had the lines been preserved, they would be an amazing tourist draw.

One such was the rail line ran from Leyburn to Garsdale, which ran through stunning Wensleydale.

Sadly, however, this is a much different story to the Settle-Carlisle railway, which never stopped running.

The Wensleydale rails were lifted and much of the track bed was sold off to various farmers and landowners.

Yet Wensleydale Railway campaigners still hope it will one day be restored.

It is unlikely to happen, but they deserve our applause for trying.

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