Railway survival

IT is indeed impressive that the Wensleydale Railway is still up and running after 170 years (D&S Times, Spectator's Notes, Apr 29).

Given the twists and turns that this railway has survived where better used routes have failed makes it even more surprising.

I think the ease with which the well-used Richmond branch was lost – more due to political dogma than any accurate profit or loss mechanisms at the time – makes the Wensleydale line more precious. We used the Catterick Bridge station on the Richmond line regularly, and its closure brought home to me the tenuous grip on existence that rural railways had in the last half of the 20th Century, even though we took them for granted at the time.

These essential travel corridors which had taken years in the construction with pick and shovel could be lost overnight.

It was perhaps due to this that I was glad to accept an invitation by the Wensleydale Railway Association to become a committee member in the early 1990s and was pleased that I was able to support their aims in some small way. Those including Ruth Annison and others who had successfully helped save the Settle to Carlisle line and proved its economic benefits had now turned their attention to the moribund Redmire branch to see if anything similar could be done there.

The fledgling WRA, which in its early days didn't have a railway and were more of a campaigning and lobbying group, was rudely put to the test when the daily limestone trains stopped running and there was a real risk of scores of extra lorries on local roads and the railway going for scrap.

The WRA's innovative track unit appeal ably supported by the D&S Times "Rails in The Dales" campaign caught the public imagination and contributions to save the railway poured in locally and from further afield.

Ironically it may have been the loss of the Richmond line and its associated branch to Catterick Garrison which kept the Wensleydale branch alive when the military suddenly expressed interest and began using it to move tanks and heavy military vehicles to Catterick. However it was the public's support, the military intervention and the WRA's membership which bought the association the time and resources to secure the branch on a hundred year lease and to begin running passenger trains for the first time for 50 years in 2003.

Speaking however as an early WRA committee member I am convinced that without the persistent drive and energy of Ruth Annison there would be no Wensleydale Railway now. It was she who lived and breathed the concept and benefits of the railway every day and who promoted it far and wide at every opportunity to anyone who would listen.

There were of course nay-sayers who said it couldn't be done, the worn out track wouldn't support the safe running of trains and some labelled us naïve anoraks. Indeed when the last of the three special trains ran over the branch in December 1992 after closure, it did seem as if the outlook was as gloomy as the weather they departed into.

The rest is history but looking back since 2003 it gladdens me to see that the railway has not only survived but gone from strength to strength.

There's lots more to do, but its trajectory is on the up. One only has to look to see what thousands of unpaid voluntary hours have achieved, from the magnificent restorations of buildings to track and infrastructure.

A ride on the railway is always a treat for locals and visitors alike and it has delivered real economic benefits to the towns and stops along its route in lower Wensleydale; something that those who are thinking of turning its western end in to another footpath may choose to think about.

The railway now is an established and valuable addition to all the other things we have in this part of Yorkshire which makes our area such an amazing place to live and work in.

The fantastic success of the Polar Express trains (just see the gushing Trip Advisor reviews) makes my heart swell.

After a period of absence I've returned to the railway as a volunteer following retirement. I wish I'd done it earlier, having made so many new friends and enjoying the things I do. To anyone thinking of doing the same, I'd say don't wait. Or just come for a ride; step aboard!

Alan Graham, Finghall, Leyburn.

Mayor's thanks

I WOULD like to thank all the generous businesses in Richmond who donated prizes for the raffle at my charity dinner. It was an extremely successful event which raised over £1,000 for my charity, Cancer Research.

Many thanks to you all.

Bob White, Mayor of Richmond.

Land policy

I EMAILED Rishi Sunak’s office on March 10 this year regarding the potential development of some arable agricultural land in Great Ayton.

I asked what Mr Sunak’s position was on the development of such land, bearing in mind the war in Ukraine, a potential food shortage, and the current price of grain.

I received a reply the following day, saying Mr Sunak cannot get involved in any development processes and this must be taken up with my local council.

I pointed out that I was asking for Mr Sunak’s/this government’s specific policy regarding the development of agricultural land, as this has a broader implication on the country’s economy and planning policies.

These policies are decided at national level, through the national Planning Policy Framework and I thought it a legitimate question for my MP.

The NPPF provides guidelines to local councils on such things as the development of green field sites, contaminated land, flood threatened land etc.

Is there a position on the development of good agricultural land? The person I spoke to seemed to accept this and said she would get an answer from Mr Sunak.

I have yet to receive any answer.

Developing this point, does it mean that if our MP is given a senior government post, we must accept that his priorities must be that of his appointed state position rather than the local issues concerning his constituents? My experience seems to suggest exactly that.

David Greer, Great Ayton.

It’s a draw

WHAT a sad collection of political leaders currently infest our lives.

It appears the hierarchy of the two main political parties cannot distinguish a business meeting from a birthday bash (cake or no cake).

The opposition parties seem to be incapable of contributing anything to the political debate in this country or come forward with meaningful suggestions and, where appropriate, assistance is help solve the problems of today.

Their sole aim appears to be to hound a flawed Prime Minister who is spending more time answering questions on and apologising for "partygate" than anything else.

Now we have the holier than thou Labour leadership apparently breaking Covid restrictions, denying who was at the meeting/party and classing the misinformation as an honest mistake.

Haven’t we heard the “honest mistake defence” somewhere before?

One man's/woman's honest mistake is another man's/woman’s deliberate lie.

Perhaps both sides will now agree to a score draw in the embarrassing story competition and return to doing the jobs they were elected to do.

R.T Semain, West Rounton.

School boy analogy

FOLLOWING the First World War (the war to end all wars) the League of Nations was set up to promote discussion between all countries and ensure such things that is perhaps the deaths of 20 million, could not happen again.

However in the 1930s the League failed because of the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and problems in Ethiopia caused by Italy.

Following the Second World War, the United Nations came into being to ensure that such appalling events could not be repeated.

Problems can only be resolved by discussion, and these discussions end up at the Security Council.

For a resolution to be passed then all delegates have to agree, delegates can either vote for or abstain or vote against the motion, if any one person votes against then the motion fails and nothing is achieved.

Recently the Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres, a Portuguese diplomat, went to Moscow to meet Vladimir Putin.

To show his total disrespect, Putin gave him his childish “long table treatment” at their meeting, then a few days later while the Secretary General was visiting Kyiv two missiles landed just a few miles from where he was.

Politicians have to show more respect than this.

It's like a school where prefects are elected – the “big boys” who we should be looking up to. In world events these prefects are Russia, China and the USA.

Today one of these, Russia, is bashing the hell out of Ukraine. Other class mates are trying their best to help Ukraine but they have to be careful because Russia is saying that after they bombed Ukraine into oblivion then Russia will penalise those that have interfered.

Russia, to show that they are serious, has told its army to put their nuclear deterrent on standby, quite frightening. Russia is making its own rules with total disregard to the rest of the world, if we do not challenge this the future is unknown.

Over the last years I have been writing to many politicians and to date I have not had a single reply that means anything.

They either do not reply or say “that is not in my remit”, but these are the people that we vote for.

We need new rules and people that have experience in serious debate – not just at public school – and they must have the ability to achieve results.

Our government would say that after eight years they achieved Brexit, tell that to any Northern Ireland MP, every one of them is in opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Brian Tyldesley, Middleham.


WHY are the Westminster bubble and the national media so preoccupied with Downing Street parties, parliamentary porn and Angela Rayner’s legs when thousands of defenceless civilians, including innocent children and new-born babies, are being needlessly murdered in Ukraine?

There should be just one thing on the minds of the government, MPs and opinion-formers: putting an end to these atrocities.

Steve Kay (Ind), Deputy Leader Redcar & Cleveland Council.

Jail for Boris

RETURNING home in a joyful mood on Friday evening after visiting my favourite fish and chip shop my mood, and possibly my weekend, was shattered when my wife announced at the door that Boris had been jailed for two and a half years.

I couldn't believe what she was saying, thinking it was relating to further announcements that had been made about the so-called "partygate" events.

My mind was just blank (not unusual some would say) saying to my wife (on handing over the fish and chips): "Oh dear the PM will have, unfortunately, to resign".

My wife then said "no, you dafty", (or words to that effect) "Boris Becker". I breathed a sigh of relief and my mood became joyful again.

I am not a member of the Conservative party but I would much rather have Boris Johnson as PM than the current Labour party leader.

Mike Taylor, Darlington.

Selection process

THE Neil Parish affair has highlighted, yet again, what a sad lonely bunch of middle-aged men inhabit the House of Commons.

Is the best we can come up with?

Who exactly is selecting MPs in so called "safe" seats if we end up with men like Parish in the Commons?

This is as serious a question we have faced in our democracy since the 1832 Reform Act.

We need people of talent and ability in the House of Commons. We do not need lobby fodder non-entities.

David Cameron proposed 12 years ago, before he became PM, that the selection of candidates especially in so called "safe" seats should be by some kind of open primary, like the Americans have. Certainly, a better system is needed, a more open system for the selection of candidates including far more people. I hope we can all agree on that.

Cllr Nigel Boddy (Lib Dem), North Road Ward, Darlington.

Smart meters

I HAVE just had an interesting and informative talk with a guy who was obviously knowledgeable on smart meter electronics, having fitted many.

He said the smart meter signal is weak and distorts passing through the brickwork of houses, hence the ridiculous four-figure bills from E.ON and others.

Increasing signal strength with a more powerful chip would produce a problem of interference with heart control implants.

Both the government and utilities company have a duty to properly inform citizens on the above points.

Can any reader either confirm the above, or provide corrections?

G B Butler, Stockton-on-Tees.