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Settle - Carlisle railway line 

History

The line was built between 1869 and 1876, at the height of 19th century rail expansion. It was born out of inter-company rivalry, and is a superb example of Victorian engineering achievement, running through hostile but beautiful terrain. It is no ordinary 'mountain railway' - it doesn't wind slowly around the hills, but cuts boldly through them. The engineers skillfully exploited the terrain using cuttings and tunnels, and skirting the sides of hills, to achieve a high speed line with no curves less that 1km radius, and no gradient more than 1 in 100.

I first became aware of the line when we walked the Pennine Way  in 1970. We sat eating our lunch at Cam End, an ancient junction of Roman roads several miles to the east, and saw the vast span of Ribblehead Viaduct in the distance. Then in the early 1980s, when British Rail misguidedly tried to close the line, I joined the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line  to help save it. The closure battle was long and controversial. It produced over 32,000 objections, the largest public reaction to any rail closure proposal ever. I spoke at one of the closure hearings in Carlisle, having of course travelled there via the line. Eventually, in 1989 the line was reprieved. Paradoxically, its usage had already dramatically increased under the talented influence of its local management.

Since then, much of the infrastructure has been upgraded, and new services introduced. As well as much expanded passenger traffic (local commuters as well as tourists) the line is heavily used by goods traffic. Southbound the main flow is imported coal from the Ayrshire ports to the Yorkshire power stations, and northbound there is a strong reverse flow of gypsum from the gas desulphurisation plants at the power stations to plasterboard works near the north of the line. The line also acts as a diversionary route on the regular occasions when the heavily used main line over Shap Fell is closed for maintenance. Not surprisingly too, it is popular for rail excursions hauled by steam or heritage diesel locomotives. See old pictures (1976-1989). See also a brief history of the line .

If you have never visited the line, then you should do so. It is an experience not to be missed. And don't just ride from end to end. Alight at stations along the route to enjoy the surrounding countryside. Or walk from one station to another - walks between two points can be much more satisfying than the same distance walked in a circle back to where you started, and you can usually see more along the way. Some of the line's structures look even more spectacular when viewed from the landscape than when viewed from the train (see pictures below). During the summer, the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line organise guided walks  from the stations to places of interest.

In July 2007, the Friends also arranged for 2200 members of the public to walk across Ribblehead Viaduct, before the line re-opened after engineering work. Some pictures from this event are included below. A similar event a couple of years later was also heavily subscribed. Both these events were by-products of the major refurbishment of the track and structures over recent years.

See also my talk on the Settle-Carlisle line , the story of my Ribblehead Viaduct sweater , Carlisle to Settle by rail (in snow), and Carlisle to Settle on foot. 

The Settle-Carlisle line is just one example of where short sighted considerations closed (or in this case nearly closed) a railway with great potential. There are many other lines that were closed, but need re-opening in order to provide a more effective rail network. Many lines have been opened in the last few decades, often performing far in excess of their predicted passenger numbers. Many more need to be opened: lines that form a 'missing link', lines needed to increase capacity on strategic routes, lines that can provide diversionary routes when a line is closed for engineering work or any other reason. These are just a few of the ways that the UK's rail network needs developing to meet modern needs and future challenges. Sadly, the 'powers that be' cannot always be relied on to do the right thing, which is why campaigning organisations like RailFuture  exist to help promote the development of rail as part of a sustainable transport service.

Copyright © 2005 - 2010 John Harrison


Pictures  

See all pictures together  , or click on each to enlarge.

Pic1.jpg
Climbing out of Settle
Pic2.jpg
Climbing out of Settle
Pic3.jpg
Sheep by the track
Pic4.jpg
Rosebay Willowherb
Pic5.jpg
Freight on Ribblehead viaduct
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Service train on Ribblehead viaduct
Pic7.jpg
Littledale
Pic8.jpg
Blea Moor signal box
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Spoil heaps from tunnel construction (below)
Pic91.jpg
Ingleborough from above tunnel portal
Pic92.jpg
Air shaft on Blea Moor & Dent Head viaduct
Pic93.jpg
Arten Gill viaduct
Pic94Walk1.jpg
Queueing to walk over Ribblehead Viaduct
Pic94Walk2.jpg
Walking towards the viaduct
Pic94Walk3.jpg
View from viaduct down to Batty Moss
Pic94Walk4.jpg
Limestone shake holes seen from above 
Pic94Walk5.jpg
Looking back at guard rails on viaduct
Pic94Walk6.jpg
Visitors returning across Batty Moss 
Pic94Walk7.jpg
Batty Moss and the viaduct 
l351GirlsTowardsViaduct.jpg
Ribblehead viaduct from the summit of Whernside
l018SettleStnPenyGhent.jpg
Settle station with Pen y Ghent framed by the foot bridge
lHortonStnBank2014.jpg
Flowers on the platform at Horton in Ribblesdale
l851AirVentMetStn.jpg
Weather station on an air vent above Blea Moor tunnel
l853BleaMoorTrackA.jpg
Track along the route of Blea Moor tunnel

See also:    Old pictures (1976-1989).        Pictures Copyright © 2004 - 2015 John Harrison.      


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