The Settle–Carlisle Railway (S&C) is a 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 due to the closure of the West Coast Main Line) all passenger trains are operated by Northern Rail.
The line runs through remote regions of the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines, and is considered to be the most scenic railway in England. The drama of its history and construction mean that it is regarded as one of the culminating symbols of Victorian enterprise and engineering.
The line runs 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 Midland board decided that the only solution was their own route to Scotland. Surveying began in 1865, and in June 1866, Parliamentary approval was given to the Midland’s plan. Soon after, however, 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 £2.3m. As a result, in April 1869, with no work yet 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 but which would cost them nothing, refused, and construction commenced in November that year.
As this date falls between the 1st Edition 1:2500 Ordnance Survey maps and the 1st Revision to that edition, the impact of construction can be observed by studying those maps.
A plaque in the church at nearby 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, a Leicestershire man who was a veteran of other major Midland schemes.
The terrain traversed is some of the bleakest and wildest in England, and construction was halted for months at a time due to frozen ground, snowdrifts and flooding of the works. 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. It reaches a summit of at Ais Gill, north of Garsdale. To keep the gradients down to no steeper 1 in 100 (1%), a requirement for fast running using steam traction, huge engineering works were required and even then the terrain imposed a climb from Settle to Blea Moor, almost all of it at 1 in 100, and known to enginemen as ‘the long drag.’.
Even then, 14 tunnels and 22 viaducts were needed, the most notable being the 24 arch Ribblehead Viaduct which is high and long. The swampy ground meant that the piers had to be sunk below the peat and set in concrete in order to provide a suitable foundation.
Soon after the crossing of the viaduct, the line enters Blea Moor tunnel, long and below the moor, before emerging again on to Dent Head viaduct. The summit at Ais Gill is still the highest point reached by main line trains in England.
To maintain speed, water troughs were laid between the tracks at Garsdale so that steam engines could take water without losing speed.
For some time the Midland set the pace for London-Glasgow traffic, actually providing more daytime trains than its rival. But in 1923 The Midland was merged into the London Midland & Scottish Railway, with the LNWR also forming part of the new company. In the merged 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 severely affected speeds through the East Midlands and Yorkshire. In 1962, for example, 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 already closed in the 1950s. The Beeching recommendations for the line were shelved, but in May 1970 all stations except for Settle and Appleby West were closed, and its passenger service cut to just two a day in each direction, leaving only freight.
Only a handful of express passenger services continued to operate, The Waverley from London St Pancras to Edinburgh Waverley via Nottingham ended in 1968, while the more important 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.
In the early 1980s, the S&C was carrying only a handful of trains per day, and British Rail decided that 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 this group 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 started a campaign to save the S&C, pointing out that British Rail was ignoring the S&C's potential for tourism, ignoring the need to 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 convincing 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 deliberately diverting traffic from the line in order to justify its closure plans, a process referred to as closure by stealth.
Ironically, the publicity over British Rail's tactics succeeded in a huge increase in traffic. Journeys per year were 93,000 in 1983 when the campaign to save the line began — and hit 450,000 by 1989. As a result of the campaign, the Government finally refused consent to close the line in 1989, and British Rail started to repair the deteriorating tunnels and viaducts ().
The S&C is probably busier now than at any time in its history. 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 has been needed to bring the line up to the standards required for such heavy freight traffic and further investment is required to reduce the length between signal boxes. Local passenger traffic has increased, with eight of the minor stations closed in 1970 having been re-opened in 1986. Ribblehead station features a special visitor centre. The line continues to be an important diversionary route from the West Coast Main Line during engineering works, though 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.
However 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, () and there remains no link from Yorkshire or the East Midlands to Glasgow over the line, and the link from Lancashire operates only on Sunday during the summer months for the benefit of ramblers under the DalesRail brand ().
The Settle-Carlisle Railway is featured in Microsoft Train Simulator (MSTS1). In it you can drive a train lead by the Flying Scotsman steam engine or a British Rail Class 50 in various scenarios. Using add-ons you can also use modernised DMUs or even a Virgin Pendolino, albeit hauled by a Class 57 Thunderbird loco.
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