The Level Crossing Keeper by Peter Sweetman

Level Crossing Keepers are pretty much redundant on Network Rail but not on some heritage or community railways now spread across the UK, even the famous Isle of Man Steam Railway has replaced its expensive crossinq keepers with new barriers and flashing lights.

Like many men, the attraction of the train never really faded away, so on retirement I visited most of the preserved railway communities across southern England. My particular interest was the diesel locomotive and level crossings, a rather strange combination riot readily available south of the Thames.

A sojourn on Alderney with its railway provided me with a diesel engine but no level crossinqs.

In 2003 some prominent business leaders in North Yorkshire fulfilled their dream to re-open the Wensleydale Railway from the East Coast Main Line (ECML) at the Castle Hills junction, north of Northallerton, running the 22 miles west to Redmire in Wensleydale. There was national publicity with one broadsheet featuring this new railway and the ambitions to eventually relay the track to Garsdale on the Settle and Carlisle line thus restoring the original east west rail link.

It seemed to me their call for crossing keepers to work with a diesel fleetwas too good an opportunity to miss. So I volunteered and was “inspected” then put through the Personal Track Safety (PTS) and Level Crossing Keeper training courses.

In March 2005 I started. working at all five of the currently active level crossings. The raiIway presently only operates a public service over the eighteen miles from Leeming Bar to Redmire, the line from Castle Hills to Leeming Bar carries only military trains to Redmire for Catterick or visiting charter trains off the ECML. It is hoped that a full line public service will be operational from Northallerton within the next decade. Eventually I settled at Wensley where I lease the station during my visits: usually 7 separate weeks in spring and summer. Wensley crossing lies between Wensley and Preston-under-Scar to the west of the market Town of Leyburn on the Bolton estates in truly beautiful countryside.

In peak season we run eight service trains a day, usually the heritage D.M.U. (diesel multiple unit) or from time to time the classic Class 31 or 37 with a rake of five mark 2 coaches, the military trains pass at all hours and charters by appointment. In March we had a twelve coach charter from Cardiff ‘top and tailed’ by two vintage Class 50 locomotives when the railwaywas criticised in the local paper for lengthy traffic delays due to a level crossing closure.. ….. oops!

Between trains at Wensley we have an abundance of wildlife, a tributary of the river Ure full of fish, movements of animals and farm vehicles and people stopping to chat. It is not unusual for a vehicle to stop on the level crossing only to be reminded with the horn that the train would prefer to pass across and continue its journey, so I must stop talking……..

It is a tranquil life as a rural level crossing keeper and I find the role a real joy with each week passing quickly before I drive south 282 miles to my home in Surbiton. Particularly enjoyable is the warmth of the welcome from local people plus waving passengers on passing trains, it makes it all worthwhile. I hope you have the opportunity of travelling on our railway if you visit North Yorkshire and please wave!

In April, The Wensleydale Railway ( website –www.wensleydalerailway_com) was awarded The Duke of York’s Community Award – 2006 which was presented at a ceremony in Leyburn during May.

By Peter Sweetman

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