A specially laid on last train from Skipton to Colne was packed with people willing to pay well over double the normal fare. Passengers included retired railway men, a clergyman and three uniformed police officers.

IT will be exactly 50 years ago on Saturday, February 1 when the last scheduled passenger train set off from Skipton to Colne before the service was ended.

An advertisement a couple of weeks beforehand in the Craven Herald taken out by the Yorkshire Dales Railway Society invited people on a special excursion to ‘take the last train to Colne and back’. The train was to depart Skipton at 2.45pm on Sunday, February 2, with tickets costing ten shillings for a return journey, and six for a single.

Pictured boarding the train at Skipton and shaking hands with the driver, Mr A Roberts of Hellifield, were Ernest Black, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Railway Society, Robert Lemon, Earby station master; Mr H Meyer, events organiser of the railway society, and Mr J Keavey, press officer.

Those on the last scheduled service, on the Saturday, included an un-named reporter for the Craven Herald. The resulting feature carried the unusually upper case headline:DEATH OF RAILWAY LINE, and with the strapline: ‘Boom that came too late’, referring to the number of people who piled onto the train for the last special time.

“Is there any wonder, really, that foreigners regard us with perplexity?” asked the writer. “The Englishman dearly loves a funeral. The Englishman loves his railway, provided he does not have to travel on it.”

The last train to Colne was however, the perfect outing, combining as it did, a funeral with the railways.

“Dozens of merry makers were at the wake of the Skipton to Colne railway line. Had one tenth of the people who travelled on the last service train on the Saturday, or a ‘special’ arranged for the Sunday, used the service with any degree of regularity, then the funeral would never have been needed. The illness which caused the death would just never have developed.”

There was an element of sadism in the journey, the writer continued, commenting on how when the crossing gates were opened for the last time they were photographed.

“Vincent Cook, porter for 20 years, was pictured for posterity; the bell heralding the train’s approach was tape recorded.These sights and sounds will never be repeated, unless someone thinks a bob or two can be earned before the track is ripped up to make some more useful product.”

Describing his last journey, he wrote: “I walked onto the dimly lit platform, surely the only surviving place in Earby with flickering gas lamps, where I sought out Mr Cook. He was busily sweeping up for the last time, but admitted he didn’t quite realise why, as the whole thing was to shut up finally. It ought to be like the health service, he said, there for the public, when they want it.”

The fact was that thanks to motor cars, increasing rail fares and a ‘remarkable ability’ on the part of those working out rail timetables to ensure when one arrived at a station, the connecting train had already departed - the public hadn’t wanted to know.

Saturday’s trains were well patronised, with the very last one at 9.10pm, the busiest at than it had been for 20 years. The night before, there had been just five passengers.

British Rail had only itself to blame, said the writer, who provided a list of what could be stored safely at the station, a lacrosse stick for just five new pence, for example.

The last train on the normal Saturday service was driven by Gerald Ong from Newton Heath and the guard was Joe Canovon from Darwen. Mr Canovon, who was bought up in India, spoke seven languages and was regarded as the official interpreter for the Pakistani community in the Manchester area. “One was bound to wonder why he was guard upon the last train out of Yorkshire into Lancashire, perhaps something to do with his linguistic prowess, “ said the writer. There they were, another ‘link between the two rivals’ severed.

“Who knows, next Lancaster and York will break off diplomatic relations, another War of the Roses will be declared, and a railway line will be built to take munitions to ‘the front’.

The line was opened in either 1845 or 1848 and was an extension of the Leeds-Bradford Rail Co.

The last to send a parcel was a ‘well known Earby figure’ dispatching his football pools, which he collected as an agent, and who would have to find alternative means of ensuring his clients got their £250,000 if they put their crosses in the right place, said the writer.

The last person to receive a parcel was a Mr Goodwill, of Cecil Street, Barnoldswick.

“But, of course, even good will does not keep an uneconomic railway running in these days of hard financial facts.”

Retired station master, Mr JJ Metcalfe living in Barnoldswick, made a sentimental journey from his home and was allowed to go into the signal box and ‘accept’ the last train. “A schoolboy dream come true, perhaps,” said the writer.

“And what will replace the station as a fund of humour? Like the crate of pigeons left, en route, for Nantes in France. One of the station staff thought they looked a little hungry and short of space, so let them out for a breather. Their owner was flabbergasted when they arrived back at their loft a mere two or three hours after he left them. And, how about the Earby trader who was asked. when the Barnoldswick line was being taken up, whether he could use a few sleepers. He said he could, thinking in terms of logs and firewood. Imagine his face when he received an invoice ‘to 1,000 sleepers.”