The Esk Valley line is a railway line approximately 35 miles (56 km) long from Middlesbrough to Whitby in North Yorkshire, England. The route follows the course of the River Esk for much of its eastern half.
It was designated as a community rail line in July 2005, being one of seven intended pilots for the Department for Transport's Community Rail Development Strategy. Part of the line may be upgraded as part of the Tees Valley Metro project.
The line is operated by Northern using Class 142 and Class 156 DMUs. Previously Class 144 DMUs were used frequently. It is one of the most rural railway lines in England and its sole main line link is via Middlesbrough. It also has connections with the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway at Grosmont and Whitby.
The route serves the following:-
The Esk Valley line was once part of a large network covering the area, much of which was destroyed by the then Labour government following Dr Beeching's report. Today's route is formed from four separate railway lines:
- Whitby (Town)–Grosmont (for Pickering)
- Grosmont–Battersby (for Picton)
- Battersby–Nunthorpe Junction
- Nunthorpe Junction (for Guisborough)–Middlesbrough
The first to be built was the line from Whitby to Pickering, by George Stephenson, and opened from Whitby to Grosmont in 1835, reaching Pickering a year later. It was originally worked by horses, and was converted to take steam locomotives in 1845, having been taken over by the York and North Midland Railway Company. In 1854 it became part of the NER. The section between Grosmont and Pickering was closed under the Beeching cuts in 1965, but was one of the first to be taken into private hands as a heritage line, worked by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. At Grosmont, the network line runs west following the river Esk up the valley towards Battersby.
From Whitby Town a single track branched up a steep incline to Prospect Hill Junction from which trains could reach Whitby West Cliff station and journey north along the coast to Saltburn and on to Middlesbrough along the WRMU (Whitby Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway), or south across the towering red brick Larpool Viaduct towards Scarborough. The WRMU line was closed in the 1950s; however the northern section of the line was retained and is still in operation with passenger services between Middlesbrough and Saltburn. From Saltburn to Boulby, the line is also still operational as a goods route for potash and rock salt from Boulby mine.
When the WRMU closed, extra trains were run on the Esk Valley. In the summer of 1957 the Esk Valley had only six trains a day, but in the 1958 summer it had 15, six of them running through to Scarborough.
The second railway line ran east from Picton (where it met the Northallerton-Eaglescliffe Line) and was built by the North Yorkshire and Cleveland, absorbed into the NER in 1858. The section between Grosmont and Castleton was the last to be opened, on 2 October 1865. The line was built in stages, opening to mineral traffic as far as Battersby on 6 April 1858 and to passenger traffic from Stokesley to Castleton on 1 April 1861. The section between Battersby and Picton closed to passengers in 1954. From Battersby, goods trains also ran south to Ingleby where a cable pulley system raised wagons up a steep incline and across the moors to iron ore workings at Rosedale and Farndale.
Between Glaisdale and Lealholm, work was begun by the railway engineer John Waddell on a branch across the moors to make the most of the iron ore in these parts. Originally intended to meet the Guisborough line, which branched off the WRMU near Boulby, a collapse in the price of the ore meant the line was never finished. At various points along the route you can see the remains of vast earthworks forming unfinished embankments and cuttings. The line was to have one station at Stonegate and nearby a tunnel dug using the "cut and cover" method. The only bridge completed on the line is at Rake Farm, between Lealholm and Glaisdale at the route's junction with the Esk Valley line. The line is still known today as "Paddy Waddell's Railway" due to the number of Irish navvies used in its construction.
Today Battersby has only one railway line, but it still takes the shape of a "Y" junction, with trains pulling into a station that is now effectively a terminus – the old line towards Picton continues on through the station and disappears round a bend before it ends. The driver has to change ends to drive towards either Whitby or Middlesbrough.
This is the youngest section of the route, constructed in 1864 to connect the Picton–Grosmont line to the Middlesbrough–Guisborough line. It leaves Battersby heading east with the Grosmont route, before making a sharp turn north to reach the Guisborough line at Nunthorpe Junction.
This section of line was constructed by the Middlesbrough & Guisborough Railway (MGR) in 1854 to serve the town of Guisborough and the area around the Eston Hills. A line was constructed south from Middlesbrough heading through Nunthorpe from where it curved east via Guisborough and on towards the coast to join the Whitby Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway (see below). It also served a number of quarries in the area. Despite its close proximity to the Picton–Battersby line, it was another 10 years before a link was built between the two (see above). The line from Nunthorpe Junction to Guisborough closed in 1964, leaving the section from Middlesbrough open to Battersby.
The James Cook railway station opened in May 2014 to serve the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
The Esk Valley line still uses a physical token system, modified so that train drivers operate the token instruments themselves (the system of working is known as No Signalman Token Remote and is used on other routes such as the Heart of Wales Line and the Tarka Line. Cabinets at Whitby, Glaisdale and Battersby and a signalman at Nunthorpe pass on key tokens to train drivers as authority to occupy specific line sections, ensuring that only one train can run on a section at a time. Until the mid-1980s, the line from Whitby to Sleights had two tracks, but these were removed along with the passing loop at Castleton. Trains can still pass at Glaisdale and Battersby, although Glaisdale is now the only station along the single track section that still regularly uses both platforms for "up" and "down" line trains. Between Nunthorpe and Guisborough Junction, the railway has been single track since 26 January 1986, although Nunthorpe retains its loop with separate "up" and "down" platforms. This section is worked from the panel box at Middlesbrough and uses track circuit block working.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has been running steam trains between Whitby and Glaisdale in the past few years, using hired locomotives and stock insured for use on Network Rail track. It is planning a share scheme to raise capital for operating services direct from Whitby Station (again on the existing Network Rail infrastructure). This would involve work on signalling facilities, reinstating a second platform (work completed in August 2014), improvements to rolling stock and ticket facilities at Whitby. To allow through running of trains directly from the North Yorkshire Moors line, an intermediate token instrument was provided at Grosmont in March 2007. This allows a token for the Glaisdale-Whitby section to be obtained or returned at Grosmont. Previously, for steam services to Whitby to operate from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway a signalman had to drive to Glaisdale to pick up or return a token key.
These figures can provide inaccurate as, with no ticket machines, when a train is overcrowded no tickets are sold which can distort figures.
The James Cook railway station opened on 18 May 2014.