Much has been written over the years about probably the most scenic railway line in England, loved by many far and wide. Here we look at some of the recent events taking place around the railway. Current chairman of the Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line, Douglas Hodgins, reflects on his past three years in office.

BY far and away the largest single event during recent years was the closure of the line at a scenic location - Eden Brows, north of Armathwaite, on February 9, 2016.

Prior to the closure, Network Rail engineers had been carefully monitoring the condition of the track at this lonely spot; it appeared to be slowly subsiding towards the edge of the embankment, with the River Eden far below.

The days leading up to the closure gave Network Rail a huge problem, a steam hauled train, hauled by the recently restored loco, Flying Scotsman, was due to work south and a last minute ruling allowed the train to run, albeit on the ‘wrong line’, furthest away from the embankment, at 5mph!

Thereafter the line was closed two days later at this point to allow remedial work to commence, with trains as far north as Appleby and buses to Carlisle.

One of the most gratifying aspects of this closure was the fact that the go-ahead for repairs to be carried out was confirmed only a day or two afterwards, with the whole embankment on the move, the estimated cost put at £25 million-plus.

At the time the press did the Settle Carlisle line no favours at all: S & C CLOSED were the banner headlines used by many publications when in fact it was only the section north of Appleby which was out of use.

As a result of this ‘publicity’, passenger numbers dropped through the floor, and it took many months for the message to get through that the line was open from Leeds to Appleby.

After a few weeks trains were allowed to run as far north as Armathwaite, leaving only a short journey by bus to Carlisle.

Such was the scale of the works that a target date for completion was set for March 31, 2017, some fourteen months after closure, and re-open it did on this date.

Fittingly, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway organised a re-opening special, hauled by Flying Scotsman, which ran both ways over the line.

Huge crowds turned out to see the train, church bells rang in Settle and Lazonby; the Settle-Carlisle was back in business.

However, prior to the work being completed, the ‘railway family’ came up with an idea to publicise the line; a series of six trains hauled by the steam loco, Tornado, ran between Appleby and Skipton during February 2017, an estimated 5,000 passengers were carried over the three days of operation.

Prior to the closure at Eden Brows, there was an important development at the Arcow Quarry, near Helwith Bridge.

A rail connection was put in to the quarry and this was completed in January 2016, and currently two trains of stone from the quarry run each day, greatly reducing the number of lorries passing through Settle and beyond.

In March 2018 the line hosted yet another royal visit, HRH The Prince of Wales arriving on the royal train at Langwathby for one of his regular visits to Cumbria.

The long running industrial dispute between Northern and the RMT union appears to have been finally resolved in February 2019 - the dispute rumbled on for over a year, the line saw no trains on Saturdays for many months.

This loss of trains on what is normally the busiest day of the week has had an adverse effect on the local economy, a large drop in visitor numbers has been recorded at the towns and villages served by the line.

With a full timetable now restored, it falls on the ‘Friends’ and the other S & C organisations such as the Settle Carlisle Railway Development Co., working with Northern, to promote the line and hopefully passenger numbers will begin to climb once more.

What have the ‘Friends’ been doing in recent years?

Without doubt the main achievement has been the building of a new waiting shelter at Settle, when the station is closed there was no shelter available for waiting passengers; there is now.

The visitor centre at Ribblehead has undergone a refurbishment, the Friends making a substantial financial contribution to the cost; the centre is administered by the Settle Carlisle Railway Trust, the improved centre being formally opened by David Brown, the managing director of Northern, in his first week of taking up the position.

The waiting shelter on the Carlisle platform at Ribblehead has also undergone major works, these being carried out by FoSCL joiners working with Network Rail.

What then does the future hold for “our” railway?

We would dearly like to see the introduction of a Leeds to Glasgow service, at present a large number of passengers using our trains are journeying to and from Scotland.

Longer trains, especially in the summer months, are essential to encourage patronage. With Northern beginning to take delivery of new trains, hopefully this wish will be fulfilled.

Celebrations are being planned up and down the line later this year, news of these will be carried by local press, social media etc.

While no railway can ever be guaranteed to remain open (we are always at the mercy of the politicians), the line from Leeds-Settle-Carlisle has, despite all that has been thrown at it over the years, proved to be one of the great survivors - long may that continue to be the case.