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Settle-Carlisle Railway

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Title: Settle-Carlisle Railway  
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Subject: 1876, Cumbria, Beeching cuts, West Coast Main Line, Midland Main Line, Midland Railway, Yorkshire Dales, Skipton, Drax power station, Craven
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Settle-Carlisle Railway

Settle-Carlisle Line
Ribblehead Viaduct
Type Main Line
System National Rail
Status Operational
Locale North West England
Yorkshire and the Humber

54°04′01″N 2°16′51″W / 54.0669°N 2.2807°W / 54.0669; -2.2807 (Settle station)
54°53′28″N 2°56′01″W / 54.8911°N 2.9335°W / 54.8911; -2.9335 (Carlisle station)

Stations 10
Services 1
Opening 1875 (freight) and 1876 (passengers)
Owner Network Rail
Operator(s) Northern Rail
Depot(s) Neville Hill, Leeds
Rolling stock Primarily Class 158
Line length 71.75 mi (115.47 km)
No. of tracks Double
Track gauge Standard gauge
Highest elevation Dent (1,150 feet (350 m))
Settle-Carlisle Line

[1] [2] [3] [4]

The Settle–Carlisle Line (S&C) is a 73-mile (117 km) long main railway line in northern England. It is also known as the Settle and Carlisle. It is a part of the National Rail network and was constructed in the 1870s. Apart from temporary diversions (such as the closure of the West Coast Main Line) all passenger trains are operated by Northern Rail.

The line runs through remote, scenic regions of the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines, from near the town of Settle, beginning at a junction with the line from Leeds to Morecambe, extending to the city of Carlisle close to the England/Scotland border. On the way the line passes through the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland and a number of small communities.


The S&C had its origins in railway politics; the expansion-minded Midland Railway company was locked in dispute with the rival London and North Western Railway over access rights to the latter’s tracks to Scotland.

The Midland's access to Scotland was via the "Little North Western" route to Ingleton. The Ingleton Branch Line from there to Low Gill, where it joined the Lancaster and Carlisle Railway, was under the control of the rival LNWR. Initially the routes, although physically connected at Ingleton, were not logically connected, as the LNWR and Midland could not agree on sharing the use of Ingleton station. Instead the LNWR terminated its trains at a station at the end of Ingleton viaduct, and Midland Railway passengers had to change into LNWR trains by means of a walk of about a mile over steep gradients between the two stations.[5]

An agreement was reached over station access, enabling the Midland to attach through carriages to LNWR trains at Ingleton. Passengers could continue their journey north without leaving the train. The situation was not ideal, as the LNWR handled the through carriages of its rival with deliberate obstructiveness, for example attaching the coaches to slow freight trains instead of fast passenger workings.[6]

The route through Ingleton is closed, but the major structures, Low Gill and Ingleton viaducts, remain. It was a well-engineered line suitable for express passenger running, but its potential was never realised due to the rivalry between the companies. The Midland board decided that the only solution was a separate route to Scotland. Surveying began in 1865, and in June 1866, Parliamentary approval was given to the Midland’s plan. Soon after, the Overend-Gurney banking failure sparked a financial crisis in the UK. Interest rates rose sharply, several railways went bankrupt and the Midland's board, prompted by a shareholders' revolt, began to have second thoughts about a venture where the estimated cost was £2.3 million (equivalent to £180 million in 2014).[7] As a result, in April 1869, with no work started, the company petitioned Parliament to abandon the scheme it had earlier fought for. However Parliament, under pressure from other railways which would benefit from the scheme that would cost them nothing, refused, and construction commenced in November that year.

As this date falls between the publication of the 1st Edition 1:2500 Ordnance Survey map and its 1st Revision, the impact of construction can be observed by studying those maps.


The line was built by over 6,000 navvies, who worked in remote locations, enduring harsh weather conditions. Large camps were established to house the navvies, most of them Irish, with many becoming complete townships with post offices and schools. They were named Inkerman, Sebastapol and Jericho. The remains of one camp—Batty Green—where over 2,000 navvies lived and worked, can be seen near Ribblehead. The Midland Railway helped pay for scripture readers to counteract the effect of drunken violence in these isolated communities.

A plaque in the church at Chapel-le-Dale records the workers who died—both from disease and accidents—building the railway. The death toll is unknown but 80 people died at Batty Green alone following a smallpox epidemic.

A memorial stone was laid in 1997 in the churchyard of St Mary's Church, Mallerstang to commemorate the 25 railway builders and their families who died during the construction of this section of the line, and who were buried there in unmarked graves.

The engineer for the project was John Crossley from Leicestershire, a veteran of other Midland schemes. The terrain traversed is among the bleakest and wildest in England, and construction was halted for months at a time due to frozen ground, snowdrifts and flooding. One contractor had to give up as a result of underestimating the terrain and the weather—Dent Head has almost four times the rainfall of London. Another long-established partnership dissolved under the strain.

The line was engineered to express standards throughout—local traffic was secondary and many stations were miles from the villages they purported to serve. The railway's summit at 1,169 feet (356 m) is at Ais Gill, north of Garsdale. To keep the gradients to less than 1 in 100 (1%), a requirement for fast running using steam traction, huge engineering works were required. Even so the terrain imposed a 16-mile (26 km) climb from Settle to Blea Moor, almost all of it at 1 in 100, and known to enginemen as ‘the long drag’.

The line required 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts, the most notable is the 24 arch Ribblehead Viaduct which is 104 ft (32 m) high and 440 yards (402 m) long. The swampy ground meant that the piers had to be sunk 25 ft (8 m) below the peat and set in concrete in order to provide a suitable foundation. Soon after crossing the viaduct, the line enters Blea Moor tunnel, 2,629 yd (2,404 m) long and 500 ft (152 m) below the moor, before emerging onto Dent Head viaduct. The summit at Ais Gill is the highest point reached by main line trains in England. To maintain speed, water troughs were laid between the tracks at Garsdale enabling steam engines to take water without losing speed.

The remains of the navvies' camp at Rise Hill tunnel were investigated by Channel 4's Time Team in 2008, for a programme that was broadcast on 1 February 2009.


The line opened for freight traffic in August 1875 with the first passenger trains starting in April 1876. The cost of the line was £3.6 million (equivalent to £290 million in 2014)[7] — 50 per cent above the estimate and a colossal sum for the time.

For some time the Midland dominated the market for London-Glasgow traffic, providing more daytime trains than its rival. In 1923 The Midland was merged into the London Midland & Scottish Railway, with the LNWR also forming part of the new company. In the new company, the disadvantages of the Midland’s route were clear — its steeper gradients and greater length meant it could not compete on speed from London to Glasgow, especially as Midland route trains had to make more stops to serve major cities in the Midlands and Yorkshire. The Midland had long competed on the extra comfort it provided for its passengers but this advantage was lost in the merged company.

After nationalisation in 1948, the pace of rundown quickened. It was regarded as a duplicate line, and control over the through London-Glasgow route was split over several regions which made it hard to plan popular through services. Mining subsidence affected speeds through the East Midlands and Yorkshire. In 1962, the Thames-Clyde Express travelling via the S&C took almost nine hours from London to Glasgow — over the West Coast Main Line the journey length was 7 hours 20 minutes.

In the 1963, Beeching Report into the restructuring of British Rail recommended the withdrawal of all passenger services from the line. Some smaller stations had closed in the 1950s. Although the Beeching recommendations were shelved, it is clear that closure of the line was planned as early as the late 1960s. Such closure is referred to in paragraph 40 of the official report into the accident involving two Northbound class 40 hauled goods trains, between Horton In Ribblesdale and Selside on the 30th of October 1968, by Lt. Colonel I.K.A. McNaughton:
"... Even if the Settle and Carlisle line were planned to form part of the long term railway network of the country, it would still come fairly low in the priority list for installation of AWS; this route, however, is planned for closure within the next few years ..."
In May 1970 all stations except for Settle and Appleby West were closed, and its passenger service cut to two trains a day in each direction, leaving mostly freight.

Few express passenger services continued to operate, The Waverley from London St Pancras to Edinburgh Waverley via Nottingham ended in 1968, while the Thames-Clyde Express from London to Glasgow Central via Leicester, lasted until 1975. Night sleepers from London to Glasgow continued until 1976. After that a residual service from Glasgow — cut back at Nottingham (three trains each way) — survived until May 1982.


Threat of closure

During the 1970s, the S&C suffered from a lack of investment, and most freight traffic was diverted onto the electrified West Coast Main Line. The condition of many viaducts and tunnels deteriorated due to lack of investment. Dalesrail began operating services to closed stations on summer weekends in 1974. These were promoted by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority to encourage ramblers.

In the early 1980s, the S&C was carrying only a handful of trains per day, and British Rail decided the cost of renewing the viaducts and tunnels would be prohibitively expensive, given the small amount of traffic carried on the line. In 1981 a protest group, the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL), was established, and campaigned against the line's closure even before it was officially announced.

In 1984, closure notices were posted at the S&C's remaining stations. However, local authorities and rail enthusiasts joined together and campaigned to save the S&C, pointing out that British Rail was ignoring the S&C's potential for tourism, ignoring the need for a diversionary route to the West Coast main line, and failing to promote through traffic from the Midlands and Yorkshire to Scotland.

There was outrage over the closure plan: critics pointed out that this was a main line, not a small branch railway. The campaign uncovered evidence that British Rail had mounted a dirty tricks campaign against the line, exaggerating the cost of repairs (£6 million for Ribblehead Viaduct alone) and diverting traffic away from the line in order to justify its closure plans, a process referred to as closure by stealth.[8]

Publicity over British Rail's tactics succeeded in a huge increase in traffic. Journeys per year were 93,000 in 1983 when the campaign began, 450,000 by 1989. As late as August 1988, the British Rail Board posted adverts stating they had appointed Lazard Brothers to 'advise on the sale of the Settle-Carlisle line'.[9] As a result of the successful campaign, the government finally refused consent to close the line in 1989, and British Rail started to repair the deteriorating tunnels and viaducts.[10]

Current situation

In recent years, due to congestion on the West Coast Main Line, much freight traffic is using the S&C once again. Coal from the Hunterston coal terminal in Scotland is carried to power stations in Yorkshire, and Gypsum is transported from Drax Power Station to Kirkby Thore. Major engineering work was needed to upgrade the line to the standards required for such heavy freight traffic and additional investment made to reduce the length of signal sections. In July 2009 work to stabilise a length of embankment near Kirkby Thore and remove a long-standing permanent speed restriction was undertaken.[11] Local passenger traffic has increased, with eight stations closed in 1970 re-opening in 1986. Ribblehead station features a special visitor centre. The line is an important diversionary route from the West Coast Main Line during engineering works, but as it is not electrified (unlike the West Coast Main Line), electric trains such as Pendolinos need to be hauled by a diesel locomotive (typically a Class 57 Thunderbird) along that section.

Anglo-Scottish expresses have not been fully restored. The former regional franchisee Arriva Trains Northern initiated a twice daily Leeds–Glasgow Central service in 1999 (calling at Settle, Appleby, Carlisle, Lockerbie and Motherwell), but this was withdrawn at the behest of the Strategic Rail Authority in 2003,[12] and there remains no link from Yorkshire or the East Midlands to Glasgow over the line. The link from Lancashire operates on Sundays during the summer months for the benefit of ramblers under the DalesRail brand.[13]

Passenger services are usually operated by Class 158 DMUs, although Class 153 and Class 156 units can also be used (the former to add additional capacity on certain services and the latter on the seasonal DalesRail trains from Preston and Blackpool). Class 142 and Class 144 units can make occasional appearances on the route, but only as short-notice replacements for the booked units or on transfer moves between depots. Class 150 units have also begun to appear occasionally[14] (as substitutes for the booked 158s) since a batch of the units were transferred to Northern Rail from London Midland in the autumn of 2011.

In 2009 a statue of the collie, Ruswarp (pronounced Russup), was sited on the platform of the refurbished Garsdale railway station.[15] The commemorative sculpture, funded by public subscription, was made by sculptor Joel Walker and cast in bronze. It celebrates the saving of the railway line which was coordinated by the Friends of the Settle to Carlisle Line whose first secretary, Graham Nuttall, was a keen hillwalker and his companion dog Ruswarp famously signed the petition to save the line with his paw print.[16] On 20 January 1990 Graham Nuttall went missing. He and Ruswarp had bought day return tickets from Burnley to Llandrindod Wells to go walking in the Welsh Mountains, but they never returned. Neighbours raised the alarm. Searches by police and mountain rescue teams in the Elan Valley and Rhayader found nothing. Then on 7 April 1990, a lone walker found Graham's body by a mountain stream. Nearby was Ruswarp, so weak that the 14-year-old dog had to be carried off the mountain. He had stayed with his master's body for eleven winter weeks. Ruswarp was cared for by a local vet-fees paid by the RSPCA, who quickly decided to award Ruswarp their Animal Medallion and collar for 'vigilance' and their Animal Plaque for 'intelligence and courage'. Ruswarp lived just long enough to attend Graham's funeral.

In May 2011 early morning services were reintroduced, with one train in each direction arriving in Leeds and Carlisle before 9am.[17]


  • Settle Junction - the start of the line. Site of the junction with the Leeds to Morecambe Line and a short-lived (1876–77) passenger station.
  • Settle
    • Taitlands Tunnel (now called Stainforth Tunnel)
  • Horton in Ribblesdale
  • Ribblehead- here is the Ribblehead Viaduct (originally named Batty Moss Viaduct) 440 yd (396 m), with 24 piers
  • Dent (4.5 miles outside the village of Dent)
    • Rise Hill Tunnel
    • here were the highest water troughs in the United Kingdom. Steam locomotives were able to pick up water from these troughs whilst still moving.
    • Dent is the highest railway station in England.
  • Garsdale - originally named Hawes Junction & Garsdale.
    • At Hawes station, on the branch to the east of the main line, there was an end-on-junction with the North Eastern Railway (NER) line across the Pennines to Northallerton
    • On the next stretch, there were three tunnels (Moorcock Tunnel, Shotlock Hill Tunnel and Birkett Tunnel).
    • On this stretch also was the summit of the line at Ais Gill, 1169 ft (350 m) ASL
  • Kirkby Stephen - There were two stations here, one (Kirkby Stephen West) for the Midland line and Kirkby Stephen East for the NER (the latter's line from Darlington to Tebay). The two stations are about half a mile apart. The Midland station also served the village of Ravenstonedale
  • Crosby Garrett (closed 1952)
  • Ormside (closed 1952)
  • Appleby - as with Kirkby Stephen, there were separate stations for the Midland (Appleby West) and NE lines (Appleby East), with a siding connection. The NE line was the branch known as the Eden Valley Railway between Kirkby Stephen and Eden Valley Junction on the West Coast Line near Clifton
  • Long Marton (closed 1970)
  • New Biggin (closed 1970)
  • Culgaith (closed 1970)
    • there are three tunnels between these stations
  • Langwathby
  • Little Salkeld (closed 1970)
    • here is Lazonby Tunnel
  • Lazonby and Kirkoswald
    • there are three more tunnels between these two stations
  • Armathwaite
  • Cotehill (closed 1952)
  • Cumwhinton (closed 1956)
  • Scotby (closed 1942 - not the same station as the one of the same name on the adjoining Tyne Valley Line)
  • Petterill Bridge Junction - junction with the Newcastle - Carlisle line and the end of Midland Railway metals.
  • Carlisle: the station - full title Carlisle Citadel was owned jointly by the LNWR and the Caledonian Railway: the Midland (among others) was a "tenant Company".


The line is featured in Microsoft Train Simulator, which depicts the line as it was in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, depicting all of the stations on the line, with the player able to drive the Flying Scotsman or British Rail Class 50 Valiant along the 73-mile (117 km) line.

Trainz Railway Simulator has a Settle & Carlisle package for editions Trainz Classics 3, TS2009 and TS2010. This is modelled on the line under British Railways ownership in the fading days of steam power in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Simulator sessions are provided in two versions: ride (all railway operations are performed under AI control) and drive (you take control of one train in the session). The route actually begins at Skipton, rather than Settle.

The Route is available for free download from UKTrainsim for RailWorks Simulator and a payware version from for Train Simulator 2012 (Railworks 3).

In popular culture

In 1983 a film documentary about the line was released, named 'Steam on the Settle & Carlisle'.



  • Abbott, Stan and Whitehouse, Alan (1994) [first published 1990] The line that refused to die. Hawes: Leading Edge. ISBN 0-948135-43-3
  • Baughan P E (1966) The Midland Railway North of Leeds
  • Houghton F W & Foster W H (1948) The Story of the Settle - Carlisle line.
  • Towler J (1990) The Battle for the Settle & Carlisle Platform 5 Publishing, Sheffield ISBN 1-872524-07-9
  • Williams F S (1875, reprinted 1968) Williams' Midland Railway

External links

  • Settle-Carlisle Partnership — timetables, online secure shop, route guides and the latest news, plus information about FoSCL
  • Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL) - information, recent news and events, guided walks and membership information
  • Friends of DalesRail — Free guided walks from the Settle-Carlisle railway
  • A history of the Mallerstang section of the line, and a commemoration of those who died during its construction, and in three accidents in this dale
  • Images and information of each railway station
  • Report on the attempt to close the line and the campaign to keep it open.
  • Time Team: Blood, Sweat and Beers - Rise Hill, Cumbria

Coordinates: 54°31′01″N 2°27′22″W / 54.517°N 2.456°W / 54.517; -2.456

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