FORMER cabinet minister, Michael Portillo, who as transport minister paid a key part in saving the Settle-Carlisle railway from closure in 1989, became the Friends group president last year.

In one of the editions of the newsletter of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL), Mark Rand said following the death earlier that 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.

But that dilemma was short-lived and brought about the perfect replacement for such an important role.

Mr Rand said: "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."

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.

Speaking recently to the Craven Herald about the latest milestone 30 years down the line since its reprieve, and with huge numbers of passengers continuing to enjoy the epic journey, Mr Portillo said: "The line celebrates thirty years since the reprieve which it was my privilege to sign.

"I am so delighted that it survived to provide access, service and enjoyment to so many thousands over the last three decades. It would have been an unimaginable disaster had it closed."