FOR years, Rory Ward had a memory he just couldn't puzzle out.

In that memory, he was six years old, and standing with his grandfather on the platform of Fangfoss railway station, up on the Yorkshire Wolds.

"I was standing in the cold and snow, in a dressing gown and wellies," he says. "But I could never think why."

It was only years later that his grandmother explained.

"She said 'you were standing there to see the last train go through'," Rory says.

That last ever train on the York to Beverley line ran on the evening of November 27, 1965 - fifty years ago today exactly. The train Rory saw would have been going from Beverley to York, and would have passed through Fangfoss at about 9.40pm, he thinks. We actually have a photograph of it, thanks to the Pocklington and District Local History Group.

To be honest, Rory doesn't really remember much about that night. But he does remember Fangfoss Station itself.

It had actually closed in 1959, six years earlier, in the year Rory was born.

It was British Railways policy then to ask railway staff to move into empty stations until they could be sold, to prevent vandalism.

Rory's grandad, Les Brigham, an area photographer for British Railways, was asked to move into Fangfoss Station.

As a child, Rory lived with his parents in Fangfoss itself. And his mum would often bring him to see his grandparents at the old station.

York Press:

The last train through Pocklington, November 27, 1965. Picture: Pocklington and District Local History Group

Today, Rory lives in York, where he works as a security officer. He may not remember much about the day the last train ran along the York to Beverley line. But as a railways enthusiast he still laments it.

"This is an event in railway history that should never have been allowed to happen," he says. "In some parts of the world, railways that are closed are mothballed so their viability can be reassessed, but unfortunately not in this country.

"It was pulled up almost immediately and its infrastructure destroyed in what the railways call asset recovery. It was a sad occasion. I think it is a fact that we wouldn't have the congestion on the roads of East Yorkshire and the tailbacks on the A1079 Hull Road had the line remained open."

The York to Beverley line was one of many across the country that, in the 1960s, fell victim to the Beeching cuts (see panel).

With hindsight, it seems obvious now that destroying all those miles of track, and all those rural stations, was short-sighted.

York Press:

A schoolboy watching a goods train enter Pocklington in 1961. Photo: Pocklington and District Local History Group

The prevailing view back then was that railways had an important part to play in Britain's transport network - but mainly in urban areas, says Bob Gwynne, an associate curator at the National Railway Museum. Much of the rail network serving small rural communities was sacrificed. "Cars were improving, roads were improving, and we were following the US model of the freedom of the road."

Today, however, many small rural towns and villages are increasingly isolated - accessible only to those with a car or with the patience to wait for infrequent buses. At the same time, the rail routes we do have are increasingly crowded, says Mr Gwynne.

"Rail is absolutely booming. There are many more passengers travelling now than ten years ago. We have as many rail passengers now as we did post war, on a system that is one third smaller."

It is not surprising, then, that across the country, there have been campaigns to re-open some lines closed by Beeching: not least the York to Beverley.

York Press:

Pocklington School pupils wave off their schoolmates at the town's station in 1922.  Photo: Pocklington and District Local History Group

A feasibility study in 2005 suggested that, even though some sections of the route had long since been built over, re-opening the line might make economic sense. It would cost about £239m, the study by consultants Carl Bro for East Riding of Yorkshire Council concluded. But it would be feasible, and the benefit/ cost ratio would be favourable.

If that was true ten years ago, how much more true would it be today, when the cost of using a car has soared, roads are crowded - and rail passenger numbers are much higher than they were then?

The Minsters Rail Campaign, which is pushing for the re-opening of the line, certainly believes it makes sense. Re-opening the line would transform the prospects of towns such as Pocklington, Stamford Bridge, Market Weighton and Beverley, open up the Wolds to visitors, hugely improve rail links between York, the East Riding and Hull - and relieve pressure on the A1079 and A166, it says.

York Press:

Stamford Bridge station looking south-east during the 1950s (John Mann Collection)

"It would make an enormous difference," says Peter Hemmerman, the mayor of Market Weighton and Minsters Rail Campaign chairman.

Conversely, failure to re-open the line would have a long-term cost to the economy of this part of Yorkshire, the campaign argues.

So what are the prospects of the line being re-opened?

They seemed to recede in 2013 when East Riding of Yorkshire council failed to include proposals to re-open the line in its draft local plan.

But the political and economic landscape has changed since then. Chancellor George Osborne himself was in York (at the National Railway Museum) not long ago to launch the National Infrastructure Commission, which promises major investment in transport. All the talk now is of a 'Northern Powerhouse', and of improving connections between towns and cities across the North of England to help make that possible.

With the high speed HS2 line due to come to Leeds, it would make sense for that to be plugged into a strong local rail network, says the NRM's Bob Gwynne. Restoring the York to Beverley line would slash the rail journey from York to Beverley from nearly two hours to something like 50 minutes - and could directly link Hull with Leeds via York. It would improve connections across the region, in short - making York and East Yorkshire more attractive to business.

The recent re-opening of the Borders Railway linking Scottish Borders communities with Edinburgh proves that it can be done, Mr Gwynne says.

York Press:

Queen Elizabeth II waving from a carriage window at Edinburgh's Waverley Station after boarding a steam train to inaugurate the new £294 million Scottish Borders Railway, September 9, 2015. 

The Borders line faced many of the difficulties the York to Beverley line would - and at almost £300 million cost more, if anything.

But since it was officially reopened by the Queen in September, it has been hugely popular, with passenger numbers exceeding expectations.

Yorkshire devolution, which would see responsibility for transport budgets devolved to some combination of Yorkshire authorities, would provide a real opportunity for local politicians to take the plunge over reopening lines such as the York to Beverley, Mr Gwynne says.

And there certainly seems to be real appetite amongst politicians locally.

Julian Sturdy, the Conservative MP for York Outer and a Patron of the Minsters Rail Campaign, is a strong supporter. "A new line would bring a variety of benefits including improved journey times and a reduction of congestion on the A1079," he says.

York Central's Labour MP Rachael Maskell is also in favour. "Not only will the line, like the opening of other branch lines, reduce journey time, but (it) will have a positive impact on the local economy," she says.

Even East Riding of Yorkshire Council is in favour - despite not including the proposals in its local plan.

The proposals weren't included simply because they weren't felt to be deliverable within the plan's 20-year timeframe, says the authority's director of corporate strategy and commissioning John Skidmore.

"However... the council remains committed to working with partners to promote the reinstatement of this route and, should circumstances change regarding the prospect of funding required to deliver such a scheme, then the council would consider reviewing the position in the plan."

Fifty years since the last train ran along this route, therefore, the prospects of the York to Beverley line being reinstated look better than they have for a long time.

"It's looking more promising every day," says Peter Hemmerman.


History of the York to Beverley Line

The first part of the York to Beverley line, between York and Market Weighton, was opened by George Hudson's York and North Midland Railway company in 1847. Construction of the second part, on to Beverley, was delayed for 17 years, however, because of Hudson's fall from grace. It eventually opened in 1865, allowing trains to run through all the way from York to Hull.

Although in 1959 the stations at Warthill, Fangfoss and Cherry Burton were closed to passengers, the line appeared to be in good health at the start of the 1960s.

York Press:

Cherry Burton station staff during the early twentieth century

Beeching, however, argued that most passengers using it were travelling from York to Hull and that the stations in between – including Earswick, Stamford Bridge, Pocklington and Market Weighton – were underused. The line was closed, with the final train running on November 27 1965.


Other local lines closed by Beeching

The Beeching report was published in March 1963. Dr Richard Beeching proposed closing about 2,300 stations (roughly one third of the total) and scrapping about 5,000 of the 17,380 miles of track.

Local lines and stations closed in the wake of Beeching included:

Scarborough and Whitby Railway

This line, linking Scarborough and Whitby up the North Yorkshire Coast, opened in 1885 and closed in 1965, following Beeching. There were plans to buy the line and turn it into a heritage line. However, the cost apparently proved too great, and attention turned to the line through the North York Moors instead. Today, the Scarborough to Whitby line is used as a cycle track.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

This began life as the Whitby and Pickering Railway in 1832. It was closed by British Railways in 1965, following Beeching, but reopened as the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a ‘‘heritage’’ line, in the early 1970s.

Harrogate to Church Fenton Line

First opened in 1847, this ran from Harrogate via Thorp Arch to Tadcaster and ultimately Church Fenton. It was one of the first to close under the Beeching axe.

Hull and Hornsea Railway

This linked Hornsea with Hull down the East Yorkshire coast via stations with delightful names such as Wassand, Sigglesthrone and Swine. It was closed following Beeching, with the last passenger train running on October 19, 1964.