Plaque unveiled to mark Wensleydale Railway award

From left, Andy Savage (Chair of Railway Heritage Trust), Lord Hendy (Chair of Network Rail), Bob Coombs and David Walker (Trustee of Wensleydale Railway Association (Trust) and Director of Wensleydale Railway PLC)

A plaque has been unveiled at Crakehall Railway Station to mark Wensleydale Railway’s win of The Hendy & Pendle Trust Volunteers Award at the 2023 National Railway Heritage Awards.

The award was received for the replacement level crossing gates donated by Wensleydale Railway’s long-term volunteer Bob Coombs.

Bob used money from an inheritance to fund the new gates and he led the project to design, build and install them.

The gates are wooden and made to a design based on the London and North Eastern Railway Southern Division style.

They were produced by William Lambert of the Woodcraft Studio at Raygill House Farm, near Hawes.

The plaque was unveiled by Lord Hendy, chair of Network Rail, at a ceremony held on 3 June, which was attended by Andy Savage, chair of the Railway Heritage Trust and Tim Hedley-Jones, executive director of the Railway Heritage Trust.

They were joined by members of the National Railway Heritage Awards team, volunteers and staff from Wensleydale Railway, as well as William Lambert and his wife and daughter.

The National Railway Heritage Awards began in 1979 and are the only awards body dedicated to encouraging and rewarding best practice in the re-use, restoration and continued upkeep of our rich heritage of railway and tramway buildings and structures.

A volunteer crossing keeper is needed to manually operate the crossing gates whenever the heritage railway is operating trains.

The previous four light metal gates have proved quite a challenge over the years, especially during high winds.

When the gate catches were released, the gates would swing at will and the solo Crossing Keeper struggled to control them. This led to what the volunteers affectionately called ‘the Crakehall Dance’.

Bob Coombs said: “I have been a volunteer for 12 years and in that time, I’ve done various jobs, including crossing keeper at Crakehall Station.

“Having worked the old gates on a windy day, I know first-hand the problems that Crossing Keepers faced with the older, light gates.

“It was clear that new gates were needed. I unexpectedly came into an inheritance that not only enabled me to fund new gates but also to have ones that reflected the heritage nature of the Wensleydale Railway.”

Richard Leathley, chairman of The Wensleydale Railway Association (Trust), said: “Volunteers are the lifeblood of our railway, and this award recognises the incredible contribution that Bob and all our volunteers make. It also highlights our commitment and dedication to preserving our railway heritage and keeping history alive for generations to enjoy.”

Crakehall railway station was opened to passengers in 1856 by the Bedale and Leyburn Railway, which later became part of the London and North Eastern Railway.

The railway was closed to scheduled passenger traffic in 1954 and goods traffic in 1992. Wensleydale Railway PLC currently has a lease of the building.