Yorkshire returns to the age of steam for commuter service

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The Independent Online

Few journeys evoke the romance of steam travel quite like the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. Eight years after it closed in 1962, the route was made famous in the film The Railway Children.

In the meantime, enthusiasts rallied to preserve the track and rolling stock which once connected the thriving mills of the Yorkshire Moors turning the railway into a thriving tourist attraction. Now hopes are rising that commuters could be given the chance to relive the golden age of branch line travel for real after a study found that daily services along the Worth Valley were viable.

It is hoped that the return of regular peak time trains to the five-mile stretch of track between Keighley and Oxenhope, built in 1867, could take hundreds of cars off the increasingly-congested village roads and allow workers direct rail access from the heart of Bronte country to cities such as Bradford, Leeds and Manchester every 45 minutes.

Should it re-open, it would become the first entire branch line to do so since the Dr Beeching-era cuts which resulted in the loss of 4,000 miles of British railway and 3,000 stations in the 1960s. It could also offer a blueprint for the opening of other links such as the trans-Pennine Skipton-Colne line. A keenly-awaited report by consultants Arup, commissioned by the Worth Valley Joint Transport Committee suggests a number of alternatives including sub-contracting services to another operator, selling or leasing track to Network Rail or continuing to staff the railway by volunteers.

John Huxley, who chairs the group, said commuters could be climbing aboard by 2012. "When this branch line was saved for posterity it was done by a huge number of local people who were involved. "The idea was to have local services again. That was 40 years ago but it has not been easy to do." The new route would be powered by diesel or by steam. Dr Matthew Stroh, chairman of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway charity which operates the line, said it was in the process of consulting with its supporters but that it had to be satisfied that the economic costs would be met and that the culture of the existing organisation would be suitably preserved.

"We operate using trained volunteers and the challenges of running a daily early morning and evening service are not easy to overcome, but then who would have believed we could rise to the challenge of being among the first to re-open a full branch line and be as successful as we have over the past 40 years of doing so?" he said.