It is 40 years this week since the North Yorkshire Moors Railway was reopened by the Duchess of Kent. NATALYA WILSON explains how a meeting in her grandfather’s house in 1967 led to a rescue mission to save the railway after it was axed by Beeching

Taking part in steam-packed fun during the annual Pickering War Weekend, or embarking on an excursion through scenery of unrivalled beauty can all be enjoyed on a visit to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR).

And yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the NYMR’s official reopening in 1973. Since then, the railway has been a thriving tourist attraction, and has played a starring role in films and television series, drawing people from all over the country to take a step back in time to the days when giant steam locomotives were the main form of long-distance public transport.

But it wasn’t always like this. If it wasn’t for a group of volunteers who came together in 1967, in my grandfather’s house in Ruswarp, the railway, whose origins go back to 1832, wouldn’t exist.

The line had always held fond memories for my grandfather, Tom Salmon, who remembers travelling by train as a child when he visited his grandparents who lived in Thornton-le-Dale during the 1930s.

He said: “I had known this line very well when we spent our long holidays in Yorkshire and I always had a love of it.

“I also thought it was a line that should never have been closed and that it was a very historic and scenic line which was far too good to go to the scrapheap.”

So Tom gathered together the ten-strong group of like-minded enthusiasts on June 3, 1967, all of whom were appalled by the effect Dr Beeching had had on branch lines throughout the country.

The railway had closed in March 1965, having been axed by Beeching in 1964.

The people Tom brought together were those he thought would be able to play a key part in the reopening, such as Joe Brown, former British Rail lines inspector for that particular line; Fred Stuart, a former engine driver on the line; businessman Richard Rowntree; signalman Charlie Hart; lecturer Michael Pitts and Joe Brown, permanent way supervisor, who oversaw all of the trackwork.

There were one or two other railwaymen and a political party agent, Brian Turner, who was also a diesel fitter. Tom’s wife Erika, my grandmother, also played a part in proceedings, dealing with some of the paperwork.

They formed the NYMR Preservation Society that evening, the first subscriptions were paid and the hard work and commitment from all involved began.

Starting with no money and a brave idea they were determined to bring to fruition, the group knew that they would need at least £50,000 to get the line up and running – a lot of money back in the 1960s.

Tom said that one of the Preservation Society’s main principles was that they wouldn’t spend money they hadn’t got.

He said: “We would walk before we could run, pay for nothing which could successfully be achieved by free voluntary effort, not be over ambitious and take it from there.”

There followed a campaign which involved recruiting more members to the society, a lot of fundraising and trying to persuade British Railways to give them a stay of execution on the line, which was due to be ripped up. They managed to secure six months in the first instance.

Membership of the society was the main source of fundraising, with members canvassing the whole area, plus organising whist drives, jumble sales and sponsorship, all of which continued right up to the reopening of the line.

With funds on the increase, the society was ready to start buying track, but first they had to go through a long stage of negotiations with British Rail.

At the same time, volunteers spoke at meetings across the North East to gain more support, forming area groups as far away as Bridlington and Newcastle, to recruit more members to the ambitious scheme, including several MPs.

The Preservation Society gained access to the line in the autumn of 1968 to start work on restoring the track.

This was not a straightforward job, as most members of the society had day jobs and all of the work on the railway was done in their spare time. The volunteers cleared vegetation, painted and repaired and re-laid the tracks.

Despite setbacks, the arrival of rolling stock on the line caused great excitement among the workers and the first locomotive acquired was Mirvale, arriving on the line in 1969, as did the coincidentally named Salmon.

By 1970, the Preservation Society had restored the line from Goathland to Ellerbeck, to the extent that North Riding County Council decided it didn’t want the line to stop at Ellerbeck and wanted it to go through the national park to Pickering. It leased the remaining track from Ellerbeck to Pickering so that the whole line could be opened.

To secure the future of the line, British Rail applied for a Draft Light Railway Order which was transferred over to the Preservation Society in 1971. By this time, the society had done enough work on the track to start running open weekends to raise more funds and attract crowds.

“By now we had more stock, one or two very impressive engines and coaches we had obtained mostly from BR,’’ Tom said.

“We were able to run a limited service and because of the insurance, only actual members of the Preservation Society were covered to ride on the trains, so we had an awful lot of people joining because they wanted to travel.

Membership was going up by about 1,000 a year, so by the time the railway opened in 1973, we had 5,000 to 6,000 members.”

Membership wasn’t the only boost by this time, as the society managed to obtain a grant from the English Tourist Board so that, by 1972, it would be able to operate the line all the way from Grosmont to Pickering.

As the railway became a bigger concern, the Preservation Society became a charitable trust – the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust – in 1971. This was so that deeds of covenant could be accepted and no private profit would be made. All the money raised would be guaranteed to go back into the railway.

Tom said: “At that time, the Preservation Society ceased to exist, which did cause me a little bit of sorrow, because for four years, it had been our baby. There was a big signing over ceremony during which I signed for the Preservation Society and Lord Downe for the North York Moors Historical Trust.”

By spring 1973, all the negotiations with BR had been finalised and things were ready to go ahead as a full-time concern. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway was officially opened on May 1, 1973, by the Duchess of Kent.

“We had saved the line,” Tom said.

Anniversary festival May 3 - 12

A range of events are planned during the ten-day festival to celebrate this important milestone in the railway’s history.

The stars of the show will be the locomotives that have contributed to the history of the line, as well as including visiting engines Mayflower 1306, 62005, 69023, 44871, 45407 and the NYMR’\s very own home fleet 29, 61264, 825, 60007, 75029, 45428.

For more information or to book tickets visit