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Railwatch 079 - April 1999

Railwatch - Saving Our Railway

By Peter Davies and Ray King

One of the heroes of the fight to save the Settle-Carlisle line, and a key RDS campaigner, died in November. RDS vice-president James Towler was 65.

He leaves a widow Muriel and son Angus.

Prior to his involvement with RDS, James was chairman of the North East England Rail Users Consultative Committee.

In that capacity he observed at first hand the proposal by the British Railways Board to close the Settle-Carlisle line to passengers.

It was a watershed in public attitudes to railway closures. He chaired the public hearings into the proposal, and through his dogged persistence and determination forced the British Railways Board to re-issue the closure notice on three occasions, thereby delaying the proposal to ensure that it complied with the law.

This gave time for campaigners wanting to save the line time to organise opposition.

Eventually 22,000 objections were collected.

Without James's efforts, the Settle-Carlisle line would almost certainly have closed.

The Government of the day "rewarded" him by removing him from his key role as a statutory rail watchdog. He did the job too well, skilfully and bravely! Since then, the Rail Users Consultative Committees have not distinguished themselves as being effective guardians of the rail traveller.

James, president and one-time chairman of RDS Yorkshire branch, fought a brave battle against cancer, and devised his own funeral service.

One of the hymns Hills of the North, rejoice not only captured James's vigour, humour, decency and compassion, but discovered, in its final verse, the perfect celebration of the life of a proud Northerner — a man who liked to bring other people together to do good things and to have good times, whenever possible by train.

Shout, while ye journey home;

Songs be in every mouth;

Lo, from the North we come,

From East and West and South,

City of God, the bond are free.

We come to live and reign in thee!

Thanks to his efforts, the finest scenic line in England is enjoying increased passenger traffic and freight services have once again begun operating over the line on a regular basis.

It was officially reprieved in 1989.

This year the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line are running a special excursion train on 10 April to commemmorate the tenth anniversary of the line's reprieve.

On the day, EWS operations director Randy Henke will name a class 47 loco Ribblehead Viaduct.

"This train will provide a great opportunity to celebrate the Settle-Carlisle railway being kept open," said Pete Shaw of the Friends.

Railtrack is planning to spend £15million relaying tracks on the 82-mile route over the next three years.

Brian Sutcliffe, chairman of the Friends, said: "After years of under-investment, we are absolutely delighted about the investment."

Railtrack North West zone director Richard Fearn said the infrastructure was getting better with £1.6million annually being spent on the line.

Night-time operations had been introduced to meet the demand for freight.

Now the Friends want the Nottingham-Glasgow trains reinstated.

They were removed in the 1980s in what was seen as a deliberate attempt to undermine the line's future.

Patronage on the line has also been boosted by an initiative of the Wensleydale Railway Company which now runs a 50-mile long bus service between Garsdale and Northallerton stations.

Some of the villages served have not had a regular bus service for a decade.

This is an ambitious public transport initiative, funded by a public grant, and deserves success.

There is even a bus on Saturday nights which departs Northallerton at 02.15 and arrives at Aysgarth at 03.35.

The new low-floor buses connect with trains at Garsdale and have the longest stage carriage run in the country.

Bus times: 01969 663350

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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