The North Yorkshire Moors Railway in the 1970s by Bernard Warr
Many of you may have watched the Channel 5 television series ‘The Yorkshire Steam Railway – All Aboard’. It is one of the most watched programmes on the channel, averaging more than a million viewers for each episode. 2020 saw a third series commissioned by Channel 5 which aired in February and March. Several characters have emerged as viewer’s favourites including ‘Piglet’, aka Paul Middleton the Head of Traction and Rolling Stock; Kieran Murray would-be diesel driver but really the carriage engineer; Bert Blower, the 80+ year old volunteer ticket inspector; Laura Strangeway, the Head of Marketing, and Chris Price, the General Manager. People not involved with the heritage railway movement marvel at the antics these people get up to keeping the steam trains running and many additional visitors are drawn to the railway as a result of this entertaining and light hearted look at daily life on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Over 300,000 people visit each year and enjoy a ride between Pickering and the seaside town of Whitby.
Go back forty years and you would have found a very different tourist railway. For starters, the northern destination for the steam trains was a small village called Grosmont, where a connection with a British Railway diesel could be made, if you were lucky, for the onward ride to Whitby. Steam trains ran mostly on the northern section between Goathland and Grosmont where there was a primitive depot in which the engines were maintained. South of Goathland trains were mostly in the hands of Diesel Multiple Units (DMUs) or a solitary main-line diesel engine rescued from a scrap yard on Teesside in 1976. Steam trains did venture south of Goathland but, daily, they were only every third departure.
In my book ‘The North Yorkshire Moors Railway in the 1970s’ I have tried to convey something of the atmosphere of what it was like to be part of the volunteer movement that laid the foundation for today’s undeniably successful heritage railway. Starting as a volunteer bridge engineer in 1975 I became more and more enmeshed in the organisation eventually being asked to be its first full-time General Manager. Whilst most of my fellow volunteers were very supportive of my efforts to take the railway forward there were, inevitably, those who thought they could do better! The organisation was threadbare with no cohesive administration system but comprised many strong-willed characters in departmental management who knew little about man-management (as we called it then!) and cared even less. Trying to knit the organisation together to the satisfaction of a 40+ strong governing board was never going to be easy but I did have some success and was able to lay the foundations for the ‘clock-face’ timetable; the Pullman Dining service so beloved of today’s travelers, and increase the number of steam trains running the full length of the line. We even managed to rebuild a bridge under the railway with our own resources.
In the end, there was a puritanical streak in the make-up of the governing board, and certain elements of this that conspired to remove me from office because of events in my private life of which they disapproved. Notwithstanding this I was able to return to being a volunteer and have maintained an association with the railway to this day. I am incredibly proud of how things have turned out.
I hope you will enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it!
Bernard Warr's book The North Yorkshire Moors Railway in the 1970s is available for purchase now.