In praise of a Tory Politician (aka The saving of a railway)

No, heaven forbid, I’m not praising the current bunch, any of the big parties to be honest, none of them inspire me at present. This gentleman was a member of a cabinet, under a Prime Minister that it seemed you either loved, or hated, Margaret Thatcher. But no, thankfully this isnt about her either! Yes, Michael Portillo, stand up, and take a well deserved bow.

Back in the 1980’s, British Rail (as it then was) was doing its very best to run down the Settle and Carlisle railway. Why? Pretty much because the famous historic landmark of the Ribblehead Viaduct was in need of major overhaul, and repair, due to old age, though as has been discovered since, they exaggerated the sum needed, just to help their cause.

So what had been a decent, regular service had been run down to just 2 trains a day in each direction, stopping at just Appleby and Settle on the famous part of the line. Of course that caused traffic numbers to drop drastically, so in went the closure order. As so often, since the times of the Beeching axe in the early 60’s, a campaign started up to keep the line open, and indeed return it to its former glories. The success rate of these campaigns in the past, pretty awful, to be honest.

But then 2 things happened, a new area manager arrived in Manchester (sorry, cant remember his name), looked at the line, and his suspicions were raised as to the real reason for closure. Incredibly his findings found their way to Mr Portillo, and 25 years ago, on the 11th April, he turned down the closure application for the line. As I say, the costs for repairing the viaduct massively dropped, though nowadays only 1 line runs across the centre, reducing all weight issues for the viaduct.

A few years later, out of train privatisation, a new company took over the line, currently known as Northern Rail. What they did was not only to keep the ‘fast’ trains running on the line, they took the step of reopening many of the little intermediate stations along the route, and running a train in each direction, every 2 hours. Combined with a bit of advertising, travel numbers along the line rocketed, both by walkers in the Dales, and people who just wanted to admire the views! Also, by saving the line, many goods trains heading to Scotland from the North now use this line too.

All because a Minister had the courage to stand up to British Rail, and say no!

Of course, in recent times, said minister has actually had a series on British TV, about various scenic rail journeys, including unsurprisingly, the Settle and Carlisle.

The funny thing…Each winter, West Yorkshire Metro, in conjunction with Northern Rail run an offer of a much reduced return fare to travel this line midweek, and very popular it is too. One year, coming back from Carlisle, our train pulled into Settle station. Nothing unusual there, you might say. Stood on that platform, along with several members of the Settle and Carlisle support group, was, yes, you’ve guessed it, Michael Portillo! Now these trains are second class only, so he wasnt going into a first class carriage. Too right he wasnt! He actually greeted many of the travellers, before just sitting down with the rest of us, and just talking to those who wanted to say a few words.

I’ll be honest, at the time, that was a pleasant surprise, truly a man of the people seemingly. So fine, I may never vote Conservative, or have been a fan of Thatcher, but Michael Portillo, her transport minister, I admire him greatly, and want to say thanks for making a wonderful decision 25 years ago.

The video, just love it, though what the people who werent in on it at the time thought, I’d love to know!

3 responses

  1. Portillo wasn’t actually a member of Mrs Thatcher’s cabinet.


  2. Not in the cabinet, but to quote Wikipedia

    in 1988 he was given his first ministerial post as Minister of State for Transport. He has claimed that “saving the Settle to Carlisle railway was his greatest achievement in politics.

    So he was a minister, just not a cabinet minister


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