WHO were the actual people behind the building, the operating and the campaign to save England’s most famous railway line, between Settle and Carlisle?

Here Dales campaigner and columnist Colin Speakman reviews the latest book to be inspired by the famous line.

Most of the many books describing the history of the line tell of the famous, the politicians, the usually be-whiskered company directors, the engineers who take centre stage in any great project. These are the people who get the credit, the fame, the accolades.

But that is only part of this epic story. A new book by author and social historian Professor Paul Salveson takes a look not just at the more well-known aspects of the Settle-Carlisle story, but at the lives and careers of the many people who in many different ways made it happen. Above all were the ordinary working people and their families, navvies and bricklayers who laid the tracks and build the viaducts, the drivers and guards who manned the trains up the long drag from steam days, who looked after the tracks, the stations and the signal boxes. But in later years they were joined by other unsung heroes and heroines who campaigned to save the line in the 1980s.

Paul Salveson is best known for his pioneering work in setting up Britain’s first Community Rail Partnerships, working with local users, campaigners and railway staff who together helped look after stations, distribute timetables, organise events such as music trains to both fill lightly-used evening services and publicise the railway and the places it served. The Settle-Carlisle railway (not being a branch line) doesn’t have a CRP as such but one of the largest and most vibrant rail support organisations in the UK – the Friends of Settle-Carlisle. There’s also the part-commercial, part-voluntary Settle Carlisle Railway Development Company which does a huge amount of work to promote the railway and provide on-train services such as refreshment on the trains.

Interestingly enough, Paul was, at one point in his career, also a professional railwayman. During the mid-1970s he was a goods guard based at Blackburn Depot where for a time he worked freight trains in both East Lancashire and over Settle-Carlisle, on what were known as “loose-coupled” as well more modern “fully fitted” freight trains. The loose-coupled trains required immense skill from both driver and guard to ensure safe running over the steeply graded S&C line.

With this first-hand experience of railway life and culture Paul is therefore perhaps better qualified than most people to recognise and celebrate that massive, often unseen contribution by so many individuals and organisations that has made the Settle Carlisle railway the success it is today.

So what does Paul Salveson see as a future for the line?

He rightly suggests that the Settle-Carlisle is unlikely to become a high-speed intercity line to compete with the electrified East and West Coast lines, whether or not either eventually link up with HS2. But he sees it as a buoyant “inter-regional” line for work, shopping and leisure purposes, not only for local traffic but providing the most direct connections between several major centres of population in the north of England, east Midlands and Scotland, a role which would be significantly enhanced when – not if – the Waverley route is extended from Edinburgh to Carlisle.

He also sees it as a vital route for freight as capacity becomes more limited on the high speeds line to the west and east, and a diversionary route in times of emergencies.

He stresses its role a superb means of access to the Yorkshire Dales National Park, the Eden Valley and the North Pennines.

Sadly the only major branch line off the S&C through Wensleydale from Northallerton to Hawes and to Garsdale closed west of Redmire in the 1950s, as did the Stainmoor line that once connected at Appleby East, linking Workington and Teesside.

But you can catch connecting bus services on a daily basis from Settle to Ingleton and from Garsdale to Hawes, and on Saturdays Dent to Sedbergh and in the summer months on Sundays from Settle to Malham, and Ribblehead to Wensleydale and Swaledale.

If the Climate Crisis requires us to use cars less and public transport more, such “branch lines on rubber tyres” should be operating daily, perhaps operating new routes such as from Kirkby Stephen to both Kendal and the Westmorland Dales or Langwathby to Alston.

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1) by Paul Salveson is published by Crowood press at £24.