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All About the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Ahead of their 50th Anniversary Celebrations

North Yorkshire Moors Railway
What's on
April 2023
Reading time 5 Minutes

North Yorkshire Moors Railway are celebrating their 50th anniversary this May. We went to find out what makes this historic railway such a success, and just how the team are planning to celebrate the milestone

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway Trust is a not-for-profit charitable organisation run as part of the local community, with the line stretching 24 miles though the heart of the beautiful North York Moors National Park, from Pickering via Levisham, Newton Dale and Goathland to Grosmont and Whitby.

Day to day operations are carried out by a team of core staff and more than 550 volunteers who operate the trains and work steadily to improve the quality of the infrastructure, the railway stock and the experience for visitors. To find out more about the railway, we speak to John Bruce, who has been volunteering at the railway for 50 years, and North Yorkshire Moors Railway’s marketing manager Luke Human.

‘The railway was one of George Stephenson’s earlier railways built in 1836, and was originally horse-drawn,’ John explains. At the time, Whitby was better connected to the rest of the country by sea than it was by land and the idea of the railway was to change that. ‘The original railway ran between Whitby and Pickering to fundamentally provide an output for the traders and fishermen of Whitby. It then got extended to Malton where it connected to the Scarborough to York line, and at that point it became part of the new national network of railway lines. It was the main rail route out of Whitby, but in 1965 became one of the victims of Dr Beeching’s cuts, meaning the railway closed,’ he adds.

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North Yorkshire Moors Railway North Yorkshire Moors Railway
North Yorkshire Moors Railway North Yorkshire Moors Railway

It wasn’t long until a group of concerned locals formed a community wishing to see the Grosmont to Pickering line brought back to life. In 1967 the group gathered to gain access to the line with permission to carry out maintenance and run occasional steam galas where steam trains could run for members only. As the society grew it turned into a charity, and was officially reopened on 1st May 1973 by the Duchess of Kent.

‘That day I was positioned at Goathland as an 18-year-old signalman in one of the signal boxes,’ John says. ‘I became a volunteer in November 1969 as I’d always been interested in railways and had been a trainspotter at Darlington where I lived. There was a guy who set up a little shop to fundraise for the railway who got me interested and encouraged me to come along to volunteer – I’ve stayed ever since,’ he says.

Throughout his 34-year professional career as a railwayman, John continued to volunteer at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. Now a station master at Goathland station, he plays many roles. ‘I’m a signalman, a volunteer liaison officer of the railway and I’m one of the Trust directors. My day-to-day varies quite a lot. Recently I’ve been running the booking office, other days I’ll be signalling or organising the volunteer work parties to do maintenance and repair work on the station,’ he says.

‘The railway creates a community for our volunteers and we’ve become a little bit of the backbone of the North York Moors as we run through the National Park, linking Pickering and Whitby’
North Yorkshire Moors Railway North Yorkshire Moors Railway

It’s crucial that the railway team have their own locomotive workshop as the age of some of the trains makes them difficult to repair if they get damaged. ‘A lot of the kit has to be fabricated from scratch because you can’t buy spare parts for steam locomotives off the shelf. We have a dedicated team at Grosmont who do oil work as well which is critical, but you’re probably talking £500,000 for an oil-burning or steam locomotive and they need over-hauling every seven to 10 years.

‘Most of our trains are steam or diesel and some of the locomotives are over 100 years old, including two of the locomotives which hauled the train in May 1973 for the Duchess of Kent – hopefully the same two will be available this year to haul a commemorative train,’ he says.

On 1st May this year John will be at Goathland station recreating the historic event which took place 50 years ago. Luke tells us more. ‘We’re putting on a very special train and we are recreating the [journey of the] very first public train which left Grosmont station with the Duchess of Kent on board after she opened the railway.’ Luke says. ‘We have three volunteers who have volunteered to operate the steam trains on the day, John included. We have two drivers who were involved in the opening 50 years ago and John who was in the signal box. We’re recreating that event and we’re also inviting some of our 50-year-long service volunteers to come on board to enjoy the day. Passengers who want to travel can also come and see the special train.

‘To see what has been achieved over the last 50 years in order to save the railway and keep the railway running is a major achievement for everyone who has been involved. The railway creates a community for our volunteers and we’ve become a little bit of the backbone of the North York Moors as we run through the National Park, linking Pickering and Whitby which is a popular destination for thousands of tourists,’ Luke continues

The annual steam gala which is held from 21st–24th September this year, will be a special anniversary event. ‘This year will very much be focused on the 50th anniversary and we will have as many locomotives as we can turn out,’ explains John.

‘We’re looking to try and get a few locomotives from different railways which have never visited the railway before too. We’re going to have up to 13 locomotives in steam and that’s a really big celebration, and we’ve also got our 50 year anniversary dinner [onboard the Pullman Dining train] which celebrates the North Yorkshire Moors Railway,’ Luke adds.

‘One of the other things we’re looking at more and more is celebrating the heritage of the railway, bringing schools and telling adults and families the stories of the railway and its history, as one of the first built by George Stephenson,’ John says.

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North Yorkshire Moors Railway North Yorkshire Moors Railway
North Yorkshire Moors Railway North Yorkshire Moors Railway

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‘There is something here for everybody. If you like architecture, you have Pickering Station which is one of the only stations to still have a roof, and further along we have your typical Yorkshire stations with the original buildings. You can also visit our engineering sheds and spend the day there – you don’t have to be a train enthusiast,’ Luke explains. ‘We’re a living museum and it’s one of the only places where you can physically ride on the exhibits. Some of the locomotives you see are over 100 years old and some of the carriages over 60 years old. It’s a chance to really get immersed into the railway.’

Throughout the 50 years of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway there have been challenges alongside celebrations, and none of it would be possible without the team of dedicated staff and volunteers. ‘Lots of hard work and commitment by the staff and volunteers is what has made it a success. The support of the visitors, the members of the Trust and the various bodies such as the National Lottery who have supported us, all make sure the railway survives too,’ John says.

‘It would be nice to see the railway go on for another 50 years as I think we showcase quite an important part of Britain’s heritage,’ says Luke. ‘Without railways we wouldn’t have had goods moving in and out of the country and taking things to ports, we wouldn’t have been able to ship, and summer holidays were practically made by the railways as people used to jump on board special services which went to the coast for day trips. Railways were really important in developing Britain to where it is today and I think it’s important to showcase where we started with all that.’

To book your tickets to travel or to find out more about the celebrations throughout the year, visit

Plan Your Trip

Travel along the heritage railway visiting the iconic stations – here’s what not to miss.

Pickering Station
A must-see 1930s-themed station that will transport you back in time to the steam era. Start your trip here and marvel at the magnificent roof structure which was recently restored to the original design built in 1847.

Goathland Station
Made famous by the first Harry Potter film when transformed into Hogsmeade Station, Goathland is a must. Explore the pretty 1920s-style station before heading up the hill to the village of Goathland, home to TV classic Heartbeat.

Grosmont Station
Home to the operating and engineering world of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, here you’ll find engine sheds where the steam and diesel locomotives are maintained and stored. Head through the George Stephenson tunnel built in 1835 where you might be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the team at work.

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