Settle–Carlisle line

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LNER Peppercorn Class A1 60163 Tornado on the Ribblehead Viaduct

The Settle–Carlisle line is a 73-mile-long main railway line between Settle in Yorkshire and Carlisle in Cumberland. The route, which crosses the remote, scenic regions of the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines, runs between Settle Junction on the Leeds to Morecambe line and Carlisle on the West Coast Main Line. The historic line was constructed in the 1870s and has several notable tunnels and viaducts such as the imposing Ribblehead.

In the 1980s, the Settle-Carlisle was scheduled for closure by British Rail. This prompted rail groups, enthusiasts, local authorities and residents along the route to fight a successful campaign to save the railway. In 1989 the UK government announced it had declined to close the line. Since then passenger numbers have grown steadily to 1.2 million in 2012. Eight formerly closed stations have also been reopened. Several quarries have also been reconnected to the line. It remains one of the most popular railway routes in the UK for charter trains and specials. After damage by a landslip, part of the line was closed from February 2016 to March 2017. To celebrate the reopening, the first regular mainline scheduled service for more than half a century ran with a steam engine.



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 Ingleton 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 its own 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.[1]

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 goods trains instead of fast passenger workings.[2][3]

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, however its potential was never realised due to the rivalry between the companies. The Midland board decided that the only solution was a separate route. 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. 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,[4] 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.[4]

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; that of Eckersley and Bayliss. They were contracted to construct the 23-mile section from Kirkby Thore to Petteril Bridge in Carlisle.[5]

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 ft 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 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 high and 440 yds long. The swampy ground meant that the piers had to be sunk 25 ft 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 yds long and 500 ft below the moor, before emerging onto Dent Head Viaduct. The summit at Aisgill is the highest point reached by main line trains in England. The tunnel at Lazonby was constructed at the request of a local vicar as he did not want the railway to run past the vicarage.[6]

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 goods traffic in August 1875 with the first passenger trains starting in April 1876. The cost of the line was £3.6 million – 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 Railways 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 30 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.

1986 Transport Users Consultative Committee hearing in Carlisle

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,[7] exaggerating the cost of repairs (£6 million for Ribblehead Viaduct alone)[8] and diverting traffic away from the line in order to justify its closure plans, a process referred to as closure by stealth.[9]

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'.[10] 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.[11]

Current situation

Ribblehead station

In recent years, due to congestion on the West Coast Main Line, much rail-freight traffic is using the S&C once again. Coal from the Hunterston coal terminal in Ayrshire 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.[12] More recently the line has experienced an upturn in fortunes. Eight formerly closed stations have reopened and passenger levels have increased significantly since the 1980s, with 1.2 million passengers recorded in 2012.[13] Ribblehead station features a special visitor centre. The line is an important diversionary route from the electrified West Coast Main Line during engineering works. However, as the line is not electrified, electric trains such as Pendolinos need to be hauled by diesel locomotives (typically a Class 57 Thunderbird) along the diversion section.

Express services have not been fully restored. A twice daily Leeds–Glasgow Central service in was launched in 1999 (calling at Settle, Appleby, Carlisle, Lockerbie and Motherwell), but was withdrawn at the behest of the Strategic Rail Authority in 2003,[14] 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.[15]

In April 2014, the 25th anniversary of the line's reprieve was celebrated by the running of a special train from Leeds to Carlisle over the route. This conveyed many of the campaigners who fought to save the line and called at Settle station, where a ceremony was held to commemorate the announcement made on 11 April 1989 that the line would be kept open. Michael Portillo, the Transport Secretary in the Thatcher government of the time (and who made the official announcement regarding the line in parliament) attended the celebrations.[16][17][18]

Reconnection to quarries

In July 2015 it was announced that the stone quarries at Arcow and Dry Rigg would be reconnected to the line via north facing points. Stone from both of these quarries is in demand for road building due to its high PSV (Polished Stone Value) and would be taken out of the Yorkshire Dales National Park by freight train instead of lorries.[19][20] The work was undertaken during the last quarter of 2015 with the link opening to traffic in 2016.[21][22]


Horton-in-Ribblesdale station
  • 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, with 24 piers
    • Blea Moor here is Blea Moor signal box and loop. Blea Moor signalbox is the remotest signal box in England[23]
    • Blea Moor Tunnel 2,629 yd
    • here are the Dent Head & Arten Gill viaducts.
  • Dent (4½ 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.
  • Garsdale – originally named Hawes Junction then Hawes Junction & Garsdale.
    • At Hawes station, on the Hawes 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 (now the Wensleydale Railway).
    • On the next stretch, there were three tunnels (Moorcock Tunnel, Shotlock Hill Tunnel and Birkett Tunnel).
    • On this stretch is the summit of the line at Ais Gill, 1,169 ft ASL. From 1954, the summit was marked by a vitreous enamel sign.[24]
  • 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".

In popular culture

In 1983 a film documentary about the line was released, named 'Steam on the Settle & Carlisle'.[25] In March 2016 a fifty-minute colour documentary "The Long Drag", made in 1962-3 was released for free viewing on the British Film Institute website.


  1. "Ingleton Viaduct on". 30 January 1954. Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
  2. "History of the S&C on". Retrieved 16 March 2014. 
  3. Houghton, F.W & Foster W.H (1965 Second Ed) The Story Of The Settle - Carlisle Line, Advertiser Press Ltd, Huddersfield, p.16
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wolmar, Christian (2008). Fire and Steam. Atlantic Books. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-84354-630-6. 
  5. Davies, Peter. "Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line". National Archives. p. 9. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  6. Davies, Peter. "Friends of the Settle Carlisle Line". National Archives. p. 10. Retrieved 20 November 2015. 
  7. "History of the Settle Carlisle". Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  8. "Battle to prevent the end of the line". 24 April 2009. Retrieved 12 November 2015. 
  9. Towler, p.74
  10. Rail magazine No. 83 page 25, EMAP National Publications Ltd.
  11. "Long Battle to Save Settle – Carlisle Line Ends In Success". Telegraph & Argus. 10 April 1999. Retrieved 29 October 2008. 
  12. Article & Photos of track repair work at Kirkby Thore in 2009 The Railway Cutting; Retrieved 29 December 2010
  13. Stokes, Spencer (15 December 2013). "Settle–Carlisle line thriving 30 years on after closure threat". 
  14. "SRA Stakeholder Briefing: Northern Rail Franchise". Archived from the original on 11 August 2007. Retrieved 8 February 2009. "... existing ATN operated Leeds–Carlisle service, extended to Glasgow once a day in each direction, will no longer run between Carlisle and Glasgow from September 2003." 
  15. "DalesRail". Retrieved 8 February 2009. 
  16. "Settle–Carlisle railway line marks special anniversary". Craven Herald. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 11 April 2014. 
  17. "How the iconic Settle–Carlisle railway line was saved". BBC News. 10 April 2014. Retrieved 10 April 2014. 
  18. "Reliving the great day when the Settle–Carlisle line was saved". Craven Herald. 19 April 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  19. White, Clive (16 July 2015). "Railway link to main line will cut lorry traffic on Dales roads". Craven Herald. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  20. "Arcow Quarry Non Technical Summary". LaFarge Tarmac. Retrieved 8 October 2015. 
  21. "Work to reinstate quarry link at Horton-in-Ribblesdale reaches major milestone". Bradford Telegraph and Argus. Retrieved 4 November 2015. 
  23. Allison, Ian (September 2015). "News View". IRSE 214: 1. Retrieved 17 November 2015. 
  24. Cooke, B.W.C., ed (June 1954). Notes and News. 100. Westminster: Tothill Press. 434. 
  25. "History | Settle Carlisle Railway". Retrieved 3 November 2015. 


  • 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

Further reading

  • Whitehead, Alan (December 1981 – January 1982). New worries over Settle–Carlisle. EMAP National Publications. OCLC 49957965. 
  • Whitehouse, Alan (February–March 1982). New Settle–Carlisle controversy. EMAP National Publications. OCLC 49957965. 
  • Crome, Philip E. (October 1982). Outlook Bleak!. EMAP National Publications. OCLC 49957965. 
  • Whitehouse, Alan (February 1983). Dales rail stations cling to life – but for how much longer?. EMAP National Publications. 46. OCLC 49957965. 
  • Fox, Peter (November 1984). The S&C a suitable case for treatment. EMAP National Publications. OCLC 49957965. 
  • Whitehouse, Alan; Brown, Murray (July 1988). Settle & Carlisle: Sentence of death or enlightened reprieve?. EMAP National Publications. 6–7. OCLC 49953699. 
  • Scenic Settle & Carlisle line enjoys freight boom. EMAP Apex Publications. 19 November – 2 December 1997. OCLC 49953699. 

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