Fifty years ago, Saturday September 8th, 1962, was a sad day for Clitheroe; the day passenger train services were withdrawn.
For many years we watched as freight trains and diverted passenger trains rumbled along the Blackburn to Hellifield line, but there were no trains for us to catch.
Forward to 1989 and, after many years of hard campaigning by rail pressure groups, the then Transport Secretary, Michael Portillo MP, announced the Settle-Carlisle line would be saved, and the restoration of the Blackburn-Hellifield line – including Chatburn and Gisburn stations - was vital for the Settle-Carlisle. In 1991, the county council estimated the cost of replacing Chatburn and Gisburn stations at £30,000 each - peanuts in the County Hall budget – but both villages were quietly forgotten. In 1994, when passenger services were restored from Blackburn to Clitheroe, they went no further. That was a lost opportunity. Why weren’t passenger services restored all the way to Hellifield?
I have estimated that, in the 18 years since 1994, about £4m. in fares could have been taken at Chatburn, and somewhat less at Gisburn.
Currently, trains have 28 minutes in Clitheroe before returning to Blackburn. With minor timetable adjustments that would be enough time to get to Hellifield and back. Don’t believe it? Even in the steam days of the 1950s, Clitheroe to Hellifield took just 15 minutes.
The old station site at Chatburn can no longer be used, but there is room for a basic steel-and-timber platform, shelter and small car park on land off Downham Road. There should be no problems reopening Gisburn station.
Just think of the possibilities. At current fare rates, Chatburn to Clitheroe return could be 90p, much cheaper than buses and running much later in the evening.
Network Rail has been spending £150m. upgrading the track on the Blackburn-Hellifield line for freight traffic, and it is now in the best condition it’s ever been.
Just look at the Aire Valley line from Skipton to Shipley, on to Leeds and Bradford, with four fast comfortable trains an hour. It’s an example of what can be done if there’s enough willingness.
It’s time the Government, our MP, our local councils and our county council put more effort into restoring our own passenger service in its entirety. Let’s not miss the train again.
By Peter Brass