FORMER cabinet minister, Michael Portillo, who as transport minister paid a key part in saving the Settle-Carlisle railway from closure has accepted the role of president of the friends group.

In the latest edition of the newsletter of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL), Mark Rand says following the death earlier this year of previous long term president, Sir William McAlpine, a one time owner of Flying Scotsman, the committee had been faced with a difficult decision.

“ By unanimous agreement, one name emerged above all others - if he would accept. The Rt Hon Michael Portillo- the man who had played such a key part in the line’s reprieve from closure and nowadays famous for his railway documentaries,” said Mr Rand.

An approach was made to Mr Portillo, and against all expectations, he accepted.

In accepting the largely honorary position, Mr Portillo thanked the group for paying him such a compliment.

He said: “I am deeply saddened by the death of Bill McAlpine, who was a good friend and a great railwayman. In this unique case I will accept because I do indeed feel a strong connection to the line through our shared history. I accept, conscious of the honour.”

In the foreword to a recent book by Martin Pearson on the line and the decisions leading to its salvation, Mr Portillo described how he had travelled on a steam engine along the line some 20 years after it had been reprieved for the first series of ‘Great British Railway Journeys’

“The valleys and bridges were crowded with people watching, filming and photographing the train. It was indeed a superb sight. I felt deep emotion as I considered that the line might have closed. What a terrible loss that would have been,” he wrote.

In addition, Olive Clarke OBE, a former chairman of the Transport Users Consultative Committee for North West England at the time of the proposed closure of the line, has been named a vice president of the group.