A History of the Settle–Carlisle Railway:
The Settle Carlisle was originally built by The Midland Railway Company. Construction work began in 1869 and line opened in 1876 for freight trains and then officially opened for passengers in 1876.
The line was effectively built by hand as mechanical machinery was not widely available at the time – over 6,000 navvies contributed to the construction of the Settle–Carlisle Railway often working in harsh and challenging weather conditions – at times, construction was stopped for months at a time due to the frozen and harsh weather conditions.
The construction of the route was a huge technical challenge and the viaducts and bridges that are still used today were built by hand with wooden scaffolding. People often say that the Settle-Carlisle was the last great railway that was constructed by hand, although archive photos do show that some basic steam-powered digging machines were used in places. It is unknown how many people died during the construction of the Settle Carlisle line, but if you stop at the small Yorkshire hamlet called Chapel-le-Dale, you will see a plaque positioned outside the church that acknowledges the many people that lost their lives during the building of this iconic railway route.
By the 1970s the future of the S&C line was unclear – it was suffering from a lack of investment and was falling into expensive cycles of repair and maintanence. Couple this with the fact that many competing lines had been electrified meant that the S&C found itself losing a lot of valuable freight traffic and struggled to maintain a viable economic reason for its existence.
In the early 1980s this came to a head and the S&C line once again faced the very real threat of closure due to the essential repairs that were required to keep it running. The sheer number of bridges and viaducts on the Settle-Carlisle line (especially the Ribblehead Viaduct) demanded a huge amount of attention, time, and money to keep them in an operational state. In 1984 closure notices were issued to the Settle-Calisle Railway line.
As soon as the closure was announced, rail enthusiasts and local authorities came together and started a campaign to save the line. They argued that the S&C was a main line and that British Rail purposely diverted rail traffic away from the line and had grossly over-exaggerated the costs needed to repair and maintain the line. The campaign attracted a lot of support and finally achieved its goal in 1989 when the Government refused to authorise the closure of the line.
Today the S&C line is thriving and carries a combination of freight traffic and passanger trains. Special arranged package trips focused around the history of the line have also helped to make the line viable again. Tourists and railway enthusiasts come from all over the world to admire it and travel on the Settle-Carlisle Railway.
To find out even more on the rich history of the Settle Carlisle railway we highly recommend watching this documentary from 1983 called “Steam on the Settle and Carlisle”, which charts the history and evolution of this classic railway line. It includes rare footage and interviews, watch it below:
Steam on the Settle and Carlisle [Part 1]
Steam on the Settle and Carlisle [Part 2]