Video: Victorian safety system consigned to history on the York to Harrogate rail line

8 Dec 2020 @ 6.05 pm
| Transport

The railway line from York to Harrogate was reduced to a single track with a few passing places in the 1970s.

At the time a Victorian safety system, common on single lines, was introduced to make sure there were no head-on collisions.

It worked using a rule that drivers were only allowed to proceed IF they had a physical metal token with them in their cab.

Trains had to come to a stop so the signal operator and the driver could exchange the small metal token. If that wasn’t done then the train couldn’t proceed.

Now that system has been replaced with an electronic token and this will allow more trains to run each hour.

This video taken at Cattal shows the token exchange

This week saw the completion of a £9.8million project to modernise the signalling system.

However it will still require staff at various signal boxes along the route and most of the vintage semaphore signals will remain in place.

Many of the level crossings will still be operated by hand too, with staff pushing the gates across the road as they do now.

For some time to come, parts of the line will still look like the set of The Railway Children. The 20-mile route will remain a bit of a museum of signalling with a wide variety of equipment first seen in the 1800s.

Poppleton level crossing and signal cabin. Photograph: David Dunning

The money spent so far does bring many improvements though, and has made the line a lot more efficient. It will mean that two trains an hour, instead of one, will be able to shuttle to and from York to places like Poppleton, Hammerton and Cattal.

Extra services will start running once the Covid crisis is over and the railway industry starts to return to normal passenger numbers.

The distinctive double semaphore signal at Cattal remains for now.
Photo – David Dunning
New flashing red lights have been added to the gated crossing at Cattal to give better warnings to drivers on the road
Video – The new crossing lights in action at Cattal

These two tracks now merge into one further down the line past the bridge at Cattal
New tracks laid at Cattal

There have also been changes to the track layout at Cattal station, allowing trains to travel through the area at 40mph, up from the current speed of 20mph, enabling two trains to arrive in the station at the same time.  

The upgrade is being funded by North Yorkshire County Council and the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, with Network Rail carrying out the work.

Cattal Station December 2020 – Photo – David Dunning

What they said

Front row, from left: Samantha Raine, Project Lead, York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership; Luke Espin, sponsor for Network Rail; Andrew Jones MP for Harrogate and Knaresborough Back row, from left: Cllr Andrew Waller, Executive Member for the Economy and Strategic Planning, City of York Council; David Dickson, Chair of York & North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Infrastructure and Joint Assets Board; North Yorkshire County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access. Photo – NetworkRail

Luke Espin, Sponsor for Network Rail, said: “This project will enable more services to run in the future and is key to improving transport links for passengers, and we’re really happy that this work is now complete.”

Rail Minister Chris Heaton-Harris said: “By enabling improved connections between Harrogate and York, as well as stations along the route, it will help this region build back better, boosting the local economy and supporting tourism.”

Rachael Maskell, MP for York Central, said: “It is a day to be celebrated as the upgrade to the York-Harrogate line reaches completion. Greater connectivity will benefit the economies of York and Harrogate and all stops in between as well as provide vital infrastructure.”

Cllr Keith Aspden, leader of City of York Council, said: “It is excellent news that the Harrogate to York railway line has been modernised.  As many people will know, York is a crucial rail hub for the region and therefore, improving the connections to our city is not only important for our local economy, but also for the economic success of the region.”