A Brief history of the railway
Building The Line
On 26 June 1846, an Act of Parliament authorised the Great North of England Railway and its successor the York, Newcastle and Berwick Railway to build a line between Northallerton and Bedale. The 5 1⁄2-mile (8.9 km) section between Northallerton and Leemig Lane opened on 6 March 1848. The section between Leeming Bar and Bedale that was authorised by the Act was not built.
The Bedale and Leyburn Railway, financed by local landowners, was an 11 1⁄2-mile (18.5 km) extension between Leeming Bar and Leyburn that was authorised on 4 August 1853; the section between Leeming Bar and Bedale station opened on 1 February 1855 and the remainder on 28 November 1855 for goods and minerals and 19 May 1856 for passengers. The York, Newcastle and Berwick had become a founder member of the North Eastern Railway (NER) on 31 July 1854, and the Bedale and Leyburn was absorbed into this larger company in 1859.
The Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne Junction Railway had been proposed in the mid-1840s railway mania to link Settle, Hawes and Askrigg, and in 1846 the Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle upon Tyne Junction Railway was given permission for a main line from Elslack, on the Leeds and Bradford Railway, to Scorton on the Richmond branch of the Great North of England Railway, and a branch line to Hawes, but this scheme failed.
In the late 1860s, several competing railways proposed to serve the agricultural land around Hawes. Eventually, an Act of Parliament raised by the Midland Railway that mostly related to the Settle and Carlisle line but included a branch off this line between Garsdale and Hawes was authorised on 16 July 1866. An Act of Parliament raised by the North Eastern Railway for a railway between Leyburn and Hawes was authorised on 4 July 1870. The section of this railway between Leyburn and Askrigg opened on 1 February 1877; the section between Askrigg and Hawes was opened for goods on 1 June 1878; the Hawes branch of the Settle and Carlisle line was opened for goods on 1 August 1878; the sections between Askrigg and Hawes and between Hawes and Garsdale were both opened for passengers on 1 October 1878.
At this point, there was a through route between Northallerton and Garsdale.
Decline & Closure
The line remained a single track branch line transporting milk and stone; the passenger service over the full length of the line finished on 26 April 1954. One passenger train each way was operated between Garsdale and Hawes until 14 March 1959 at which point this part of the line closed to all traffic. On 27 April 1964, the line between Redmire and Hawes closed completely. The track west of Redmire was lifted and many bridges on this section of the line were demolished in 1965. With the exception of goods trains serving the quarry near Redmire until 1992, freight traffic on the line ceased in 1982. Some excursion tours ran to Redmire in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s particularly the Dalesrail services in 1977 which prompted interest in a renewed passenger service on the line.
The Wensleydale Railway Association (WRA) was formed in 1990 with the main aim of restoring passenger services. When British Rail decided to try to sell the line between Northallerton and Redmire following cessation of the quarry trains to Redmire, the WRA decided to take a more proactive role and aimed to operate passenger services itself. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) had an interest in using the line between Northallerton and Redmire to transport armoured vehicles to/from Catterick Garrison. The MoD paid for repairs and restoration of the line and the installation of loading facilities at Redmire, and did not object to WRC taking over the line. A trial train ran in November 1993 and full MoD operations started in July 1996. These military transport trains continue to this day.
In 2000 WRA formed a separate operating company, the Wensleydale Railway plc (WRC), and issued a share offer to raise funds. £1.2 million was raised through this method. Railtrack agreed to lease the line between Northallerton and Redmire to WRC and a 99-year lease was signed in 2003. Passenger services restarted on 4 July 2003 with the stations at Leeming Bar and Leyburn being reopened. In 2004, the stations at Bedale, Finghall and Redmire were reopened. In 2010 a passing loop was opened at the site of the former Constable Burton station, which enabled the railway to introduce a 2-train service when required.
In 2014, Scruton station was reopened and a new station built at Northallerton West, enabling passenger services to be extended east of Leeming Bar, but this section was closed to passengers again in August 2016 following a collision between a train and a car at a level crossing near Yafforth. It is hoped to recommence services at a future date once work to upgrade level crossing equipment is complete.
In 2016 it was reported that the railway carries over 50,000 people a year and that for every £1 spent on the railway, £4 is spent at one of the towns or villages on the route.