The success of the Stockton to Darlington railway line, opened in 1825, led to a wave of new lines across the country. Selby’s first rail line was the North Midlands Railway line from Leeds in 1834. This was followed in 1839 by a link to York via Milford Junction.
Back in 1834 the York Herald had noted an application for an Act of Parliament to create a direct link from Doncaster to York. Only 3 miles shorter than the existing route, this proposed diversion would nevertheless cut out a number of smaller towns and complicated junctions on the existing line and reduce the need to share with rival companies. It thus cut journey time on the East Coast main line by 30 minutes. Avoiding the steeper gradients of West Yorkshire also meant longer goods trains could be used, thereby cutting costs. However, opposition from the NMR (and the Archbishop of York who feared the trains would frighten his horses as they steamed past his palace in Bishopthorpe) halted progress. It took until 1864 for the necessary Act of Parliament to be passed and a further 6 years for the line to be opened. Over the years since then, services have included the Flying Scotsman, the Silver Jubilee, the Capitals Limited and the Elizabethan.
During its 112 years existence as a section of the East Coast Main Line from London to Edinburgh , it has seen the progressive railway developments which have reduced the journey time for the 190 mile journey between York and London to under two hours.
Originally shared by the North Eastern and Great Northern railway companies, in 1923 the entire route from London to Edinburgh came under the control of the London and North Eastern Railway.
In 1948 it was nationalised. Passenger traffic to Riccall, Naburn and Escrick stopped in 1958 and goods traffic by 1964.
Steam was replaced by diesel and bridges raised in anticipation of electrification, but in 1983 the line was closed to make way for the Selby Coalfield. The risk of settlement would have meant speed restrictions but the diversion also gave the opportunity of by-passing the Selby and Naburn bridges where even the Mallard had to slow to 40mph.
For more fascinating detail of the developmnt of York as a railway hub see 185 Years of Railways in York“185 years of Railways in York” based on a talk to York Civic Trust given by Frank Paterson, retired General Manager of the Eastern Region of British Rail.
Today many of the hundreds of Greenway users – cyclists, walkers and horse-riders – know nothing of this history, so this project is building an archive of memories and a gateway to a wide range of historical material. If you would like to be involved or have memories to share please get in touch (see contact page).
To get an idea of how it used to be, take a look at this amazing CGI clip from York film-maker Dave Thorp.