Twenty-five years ago, on Friday, April 11, 1989, the Settle Carlisle railway, and with it Ribblehead Viaduct, was saved from closure that had been proposed by British Rail.

Margaret Thatcher’s former Transport Minister Michael Portillo, who went on to host the BBC2 series Great British Railway Journeys, signed the order, vindicating a six-year campaign by ramblers, railway lovers and supporters to save the line.

It was a great triumph, a collective expression of people power that resulted in the restoration of what Ilkley-based Dales Way creator Colin Speakman described as “the best walking railway in Britain.”

In reality, British Rail, which was following Richard Beeching’s 1960s rail closure programme, should have known better.

When the notice of closure was issued on December 15, 1983, hundreds of campaigners like Mr Speakman had had nine years of valuable experience in dealing with British Rail managers in the setting up of the Dales Rail route along the Settle Carlisle line.

He said: “When the public inquiry finally took place in 1986, we knew then that it was going to be one of the most extraordinary events in the 150-year history of railways in Britain.

“With 22,150 objections, there was an unprecedented level of formal opposition. But this public response was largely enabled by one individual – the late James Towler, chairman of the Yorkshire Area Transport Users’ Committee.

“He had the courage and the intellect to take on the bureaucrats, to refuse to be bullied or accept the often crude distortion of facts such as the alleged cost of repairing Ribblehead Viaduct.

“Ultimately, James did what he was tasked to do – stand up not for the dead hand of state bureaucracy, but for actual transport users.”

Although James Towler died in 1999, he lived long enough to see the revival of the Settle Carlisle line. As did Keighley, and later Bradford South, Labour MP Bob Cryer, who died in 1994.

The man who was instrumental in saving the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, made a documentary for BBC Look North in 1973 about the Settle Carlisle line. Inside and outside the House of Commons he gave the issue a bigger public profile.

In Mr Cryer’s biography, Boldness Be My Friend, former T&A journalist Alan Whitaker wrote: “He gave evidence at the public inquiry where he scornfully dismissed British Rail’s feeble case for closure and also bombarded Transport Secretary Paul Channon with questions about the future of the line in the House of Commons, thereby ensuring the debate remained in the public eye.”

Saltaire-based Dales walks organisers and book publishers Chris and Tony Grogan said saving the line had made a huge difference both to Dales people and to walkers who live in Bradford, Leeds and beyond.

Chris Grogan said: “When I was a girl growing up on a remote farm at the top of Dentdale, my mother and other farmers’ wives caught the train at Dent station to go to Settle to shop.

“Today people in the western dales and Eden Valley use the train for work and for leisure visits to larger towns.

“Much of the success of our business, Skyware Press, is down to the Settle Carlisle line. The Ride2stride Walking Festival could not happen without the Settle Carlisle line.”

Michael Portillo said more than once: “My greatest achievement was saving the Settle to Carlisle line from closure.”

According to one cynical observation in 2010, the line was saved to transport trainloads of foreign coal to Yorkshire power stations following the closure of British pits.

Whatever the reason for the Thatcher Government’s decision to thwart British Rail’s closure plan, campaigners’ claims that saving the line would have a practical value have proven to be right.

Tony Grogan said: “The ultimate success of the campaign has secured the world-famous line’s future and seen the use of the line increase over ten-fold, with 1.2m passengers now travelling on it each year.”

To celebrate the anniversary, two special rail journeys took place at the weekend. During the second one, organised by the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line, Colin Speakman will be giving a lunchtime talk.

On May 2, Stan Abbott, co-author of The Line That Refused To Die, will be recollecting the campaign to save the line at Settle’s Victoria Hall. This event starts at 7.15pm and is part of the Ride2stride Settle-Carlisle walking festival.