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The Esk Valley Line is the railway line from Middlesbroughmarker to Whitbymarker in North Yorkshire, Englandmarker. The route follows the course of the River Esk for much of its eastern half.

It was designated as a community rail line in July 2005, being one of seven intended pilots for the Department for Transportmarker's Community Rail Development Strategy. Part of the line may be upgraded as part of the Tees Valley Metro project.


The line is operated by Northern Rail using Class 142 and Class 156 DMU. Previously Class 144 DMUs were used frequently. It is one of the most rural railway lines in the United Kingdommarker and its sole main line link is via Middlesbrough. It also has a connection with the preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway at Grosmontmarker.

The route serves the following towns and villages.


Railway Routes across North Yorkshire Moors

The Esk Valley Line was once part of a large network covering the area, much of which was destroyed by Dr Beeching's cuts. Today's route is formed from four separate railway lines:
  1. Whitby (Town) - Grosmont (for Pickering)
  2. Grosmont - Battersby (for Picton)
  3. Battersby - Nunthorpe Junction
  4. Nunthorpe Junction (for Guisborough) - Middlesbrough

Whitby (Town) - Grosmont

The first to be built was the line from Whitby to Pickeringmarker, by George Stephenson, and opened from Whitby to Grosmont in 1835, reaching Pickering a year later. It was originally worked by horses, and was converted to take steam locomotives in 1845, having been taken over by the York and North Midland Railway Company. In 1854 it became part of the NER. The section between Grosmont and Pickering was closed under the Beeching cuts in 1965, but was one of the first to be taken into private hands as a heritage line, worked by the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. At Grosmont, the network line runs west following the river Esk up the valley towards Battersby.

From Whitby Town a single track branched up a steep incline to Prospect Hill Junction from which trains could reach Whitby West Cliff stationmarker and journey north along the coast to Saltburn and on to Middlesbrough along the WRMU (Whitby Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway), or south across the towering red brick Larpool Viaductmarker towards Scarboroughmarker. The WRMU line was closed in the 1960s, however the northern section of the line was retained and is still in operation with passenger services between Middlesbrough and Saltburnmarker. From Saltburn to Boulby, the line is also still operational as a goods route for potash and rock salt from Boulby minemarker.

Grosmont - Battersby

The second railway line ran east from Pictonmarker (where it met the Northallerton-Eaglescliffe Line) and was built by the North Yorkshire and Cleveland, absorbed into the NER in 1858. The section between Grosmont and Castleton was the last to be opened, on 2 October 1865. The line was built in stages, opening to mineral traffic as far as Battersby on 6 April 1858 and to passenger traffic from Stokesley to Castleton on 1 April 1861. The section between Battersby and Picton closed to passengers in 1954. From Battersby, goods trains also ran south to Ingleby where a cable pulley system raised wagons up a steep incline and across the moors to iron ore workings at Rosedale and Farndale.

Between Glaisdale and Lealholm, work was begun by the railway engineer John Waddell on a branch across the moors to make the most of the iron ore in these parts. Originally intended to meet the Guisborough line, which branched off the WRMU near Boulby, a collapse in the price of the ore meant the line was never finished. At various points along the route you can see the remains of vast earthworks forming unfinished embankments and cuttings. The line was to have one station at Stonegate and nearby a tunnel dug using the "cut and cover" method. The only bridge completed on the line is at Rake Farm, between and at the route's junction with the Esk Valley line. The line is still known today as "Paddy Waddell's Railway" due to the number of Irish navvies used in its construction.

Today Battersby has only one railway line, but it still takes the shape of a "Y" junction, with trains pulling into a station that is now effectively a terminus - the old line towards Picton continues on through the station and disappears round a bend before it ends. The driver has to change ends to drive towards either Whitby or Middlesbrough.

Battersby - Nunthorpe

This is the youngest section of the route, constructed in 1864 to connect the Picton - Grosmont line to the Middlesbrough - Guisborough line. It leaves Battersby heading east with the Grosmont route, before making a sharp turn north to reach the Guisborough line at Nunthorpe Junction.

Nunthorpe Junction - Middlesbrough

This section of line was constructed by the Middlesbrough & Guisborough Railway in 1854 to serve the town of Guisborough and the area around the Eston Hills. A line was constructed south from Middlesbrough heading through Nunthorpe from where it curved east via Guisborough and on towards the coast to join the Whitby Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway (see below). It also served a number of quarries in the area. Despite its close proximity to the Picton - Battersby line, it was another 10 years before a link was built between the two (see above). The line from Nunthorpe Junction to Guisborough closed in 1964, leaving the section from Middlesbrough open to Battersby.

Signalling and infrastructure

The Esk Valley line still uses a physical token system, modified so that train drivers operate the token instruments themselves (the system of working is known as No Signalman Token Remote and is used on other routes such as the Heart of Wales Line and the Tarka Line). Cabinets at Whitby, Glaisdale and Battersby and a signalman at Nunthorpe pass on key tokens to train drivers as authority to occupy specific line sections, ensuring that only one train can run on a section at a time. Until the mid 1980s, the line from Whitby to Sleights had two tracks, but these were removed along with the passing loop at Castleton. Trains can still pass at Glaisdale and Battersby, although Glaisdale is now the only station along the single track section that still regularly uses both platforms for "up" and "down" line trains. Between Nunthorpe and Guisborough Junction, the railway has been single track since 26 January 1986, although Nunthorpe retains its loop with separate "up" and "down" platforms. This section is worked from the panel box at Middlesbrough and uses track circuit block working.

Steam operations

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway has been running steam trains between Whitby and Glaisdale in the past few years, using hired locomotives and stock insured for use on Network Rail track. It is planning a share scheme to raise capital for operating services direct from Whitby Station (again on the existing Network Rail infastructure). This would involve work on signalling facilities, improvements to rolling stock and ticket facilities at Whitby. To allow through running of trains directly from the North Yorkshire Moors line, an intermediate token instrument was provided at Grosmont in March 2007. This allows a token for the Glaisdale-Whitby section to be obtained or returned at Grosmont. Previously, for steam services to Whitby to operate from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway a signalman had to drive to Glaisdale to pick up or return a token key.




  • Body, G. (1988), PSL Field Guides - Railways of the Eastern Region Volume 2, Patrick Stephens Ltd, Wellingborough, ISBN 1-85260-072-1

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