Heritage Steam Railway
The nineteenth-century railway boom which brought trains to Whitby and the Esk Valley, transporting visitors to the coastal resort and serving the burgeoning ironstone industry on the moors, has left a fascinating railway network in the area. Some routes are long out of operation, with visible relics for the interested walker or cyclist to spot; others remain in use, offering the chance to travel on a scenic branch line and be transported back to the age of steam...
Here is the remarkable story of the Whitby-Loftus line. In today's money this branch line would have cost over £30 million pounds to build; for just sixteen miles of railway it gives some idea of the unsuitable terrain the line had to cross.
The Whitby–Loftus branch line came into use in 1883, some twenty years after the first abortive attempt to build a railway along this difficult sixteen-mile stretch of north-east coastline, and twelve years after the first sod was cut, and following certain construction difficulties – including part of the original cliff route collapsing into the sea. The finished route crossed cliff sections and steep ravines, necessitating the building of tunnels at Sandsend, Kettleness and Grinkle, and five viaducts.
The opening of the line coincided with the heyday of Whitby, Scarborough and Saltburn as fashionable seaside resorts, thanks to their new accessibility by train; riding a train between Whitby and Loftus, a line which hugged the cliff edge in parts, must have been an exhilarating experience for the Victorian traveller.
But operating costs were high and dwindling passenger numbers led to closure of the line in 1958, although the northern section was revived in the 1970s to serve Boulby potash mine near Staithes. The red brick Larpool viaduct over the Esk at Whitby still stands and is used by walkers and cyclists on the Sustrans Whitby to Scarborough cycle route.
The Staithes viaduct, shown in the picture above, was particularly exposed and vulnerable to high winds; concerned about passenger safety in the wake of the Tay Bridge disaster (1879), the North Eastern Railway imposed stringent regulations for engine drivers. A wind-gauge was fixed to the structure and if it measured a wind pressure of 28 lb per square foot or more it would cause a bell to ring at which point no trains would be permitted to cross the bridge.
More details about the tunnels and viaducts of the Whitby to Loftus line can be found in an excellent article by Michael Aufrere Williams.
Carrying on the tradition of steam trains in Whitby, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway now runs a regular heritage steam service between Pickering and Whitby on the original route of the Whitby and Pickering Railway, with occasional steam services to Battersby on the Esk Valley Line.
Or you can travel on a regular Northern Rail train on the Esk Valley Railway from Whitby to Middlesbrough, passing through the Esk Valley, on one of the country's most scenic branch lines still in operation.
Captured on film . . .
Watch this amazing footage of part of the Whitby–Loftus coastal railway in the 1950s, a year before closure. Staithes viaduct is particularly spectacular. The film also shows Battersby and Glaisdale stations on what is now the Esk Valley line.
Glaisdale Station, now served by the Esk Valley Line trains.
Travel by heritage steam train on the Pickering to Whitby line with the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Here the train has stopped at Grosmont.