Twenty years ago, an announcement in the House of Commons lifted the threat of closure on England’s most scenic railway, the Settle-Carlisle line.

Faced with British Rail’s determination to close the line, a remarkable rearguard action was fought by an alliance of locals, railway enthusiasts and environmentalists.

Today it is busier than ever, and Network Rail has underlined its confidence in the line’s future by investing £18 million in new signalling.

But it could have been a very different story had railway observers not recognised all the classic tactics long before the official announcement of the intention to close the Settle-to-Carlisle line.

A combination of strange pricing policies, cancelled trains, the neglect of maintenance over a period of years and warnings about how few passengers were using the line were well-known as measures adopted by British Rail which usually preceded any official statement.

It was known as ‘closure by stealth’, a phrase the campaigners would use frequently over the next eight years.

Claims that repairs to Ribblehead Viaduct would cost £6 million and that 93,000 passenger journeys generated less than £500,000 in revenue were seen as imminent warning that the line would be lost.

But if British Rail expected to close this historic and beautiful line without opposition, they were in for a rude awakening, with protests by local users and conservation groups alike.

The official closure notice came in December ,1983, following an announcement made earlier that British Rail intended to withdraw services.

A joint action committee was established shortly after this, bringing together the Friends, the Railway Development Society (a national rail pressure group) and Transport 2000. The phoney war was over and the fight was on to save the line from closure.

Hearings into closure objections by the Transport Users’ Consultative Committee opened in Appleby on March 24, 1986. Its report, which found that closure of the line would cause extreme hardship to frequent users and those who lived in remote Pennine areas, gave hope to the protesters that the line could yet have a reprieve.

In 1988, an English Heritage report showed that British Rail’s estimates for the repair of Ribblehead Viaduct were vastly overstated. Passenger journeys had now increased to 450,000 and the revenue to £1.7 million.

Even when Paul Channon, the Secretary of State for Transport, announced that he was “minded” to give consent to the closure, the campaigners did not lose heart. Indeed, if anything, efforts were redoubled.

On Tuesday, April 11, Mr Channon announced to the House of Commons that he had changed his mind due to the increased traffic on the line.

Now, 20 years on, the line is thriving.