The 50 golden years of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

This year, our iconic heritage railway is celebrating its 50th anniversary. For the last 50 years, since we first officially opened in May 1973, we like to believe that we’ve played a vital role in helping preserve the past and protect the legacy of steam travel for future generations.

This incredible milestone presents the ultimate opportunity for us to reflect on five decades of pioneering work with the local Yorkshire community and far beyond, to bring to life a safe and authentic evocation of the steam age for everyone to enjoy.

Where It All Began

Celebrating 50 years since the formation of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Preservation Society is a real achievement. Let’s take a journey back in time before the 1st May 1973 when we opened our doors to the public; had it not been for a passionate small group of volunteers, the railway we know, and cherish would not exist today.

The NYMR is one of the earliest and most historic lines in the North of England. Its origins go back well over a century and a half and were an important trade link between Pickering and Whitby.

Following a meeting in 1831, George Stephenson was asked to report on building the line of simplest construction for the employment of horsepower. The complete 24-mile stretch of line was fully opened in May 1836. It operated for well over a century during which modifications were gradually made and steam locomotives took over. In the 1950’s traffic began to dwindle, and became the victim of the Beeching cuts, by 1965 the line operated its last passenger service.

Fast forward to 1967 on June 3rd; interest was in favour of trying to keep the line across the Moors open by a small group of enthusiastic locals, and so their passionate work began, and a meeting was held. There was much debate about which route to focus on - should it be through the Moors towards Pickering, or the coastal Whitby to Scarborough line? The latter was complicated by the possibility of potash traffic from Hawsker, and the Moors route was by consensus felt to be the better option. Although the needs of Goathland were a primary consideration, the ultimate objective would be to progress reopening the line in stages from Grosmont through to Pickering.

Later that year, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway Preservation Society (NYMRPS) was formed, holding its first public meeting at Goathland Village Hall on 18th November 1967.

The line was registered as a charity under the title of the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust on 14th February 1973 before being officially opened by the Duchess of Kent on 1st May later that year. Through a major fundraising scheme and help from the North Yorkshire County Council, sufficient funds were raised to re-open the line in stages until 24 May 1975 and as progress was made, the interest in running to Whitby increased. Occasional trains were introduced, and it was thought that these trains were successful enough to run more. Shortly after opening, the first Pullman Dining Services began in 1978 followed by the first through train from Whitby to Pickering in the preservation era, in 1987. In 2011 this became a timetabled service, making the NYMR the first heritage line to run on the national network using volunteers to man the trains. Today, we operate over 220 days a year under our own Train Operating safety certificate; using our own locomotives on a well maintained and restored 18 miles of track. The railway is proud of its past, but the uncertainty of what is in front of us has become our greatest challenge.

A Lifetime of Memories 

On reflection of the last 50 years, we have so many memorable highlights and achievements to be proud of - but the most important one to note is that since our inception, that small group of passionate individuals has grown into around 10,000 members  and counting - a few of which (1000) still work actively with our railway today supplying the vital volunteering input that continue to add to our sustainability. 

We’ve also had many celeb spotting opportunities over the years as a plethora of famous faces have visited when the picturesque railway has been featured in world-class films and programmes including Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and Downton Abbey to name a few. Even Mr Tom Cruise himself has had a trip down the tracks. Additional to this, the railway has had its own specific Channel 5 TV programme 'The Yorkshire Steam Railway: All Aboard' and is a huge hit amongst fans visiting the railway from all over the world. More recently, this Spring the railway was showcased in the TV programme the ‘Big Steam Adventure’ in which journalist and presenter John Sergeant, actor Peter Davison and the NYMR’s Director of Mechanical Engineering, Paul Middleton, tasked themselves with the challenge of travelling from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, using only the power of steam.

Each year, a calendar of increasingly popular and exciting immersive events take place, such as our Steam Gala extravaganza, the Light Spectacular experience, War Weekend where the whole railway is transformed into a nostalgic snapshot of wartime Britain, and of course our Santa Specials. These have attracted visitors and enthusiasts from all over the world. NYMR events are renowned for appearances from hundreds of both home and visiting guest locomotives. Most recently, a reappearance from the famous LNER A4 Sir Nigel Gresley No in 2022 was an absolute treat for enthusiasts from far and wide.

Another honorary update to note must be our hugely successful collaboration with over 80 heritage railways and organisations from across the UK as part of our recently launched national Love Your Railway campaign. Backed by the Heritage Railway Association for two years running, the campaign’s sole purpose is to raise awareness of the many heritage railways and to highlight the crucial work carried out with regards to conservation, preservation and tourism as well as the devastating impact events such as COVID and the cost of living has to attractions and living museums like these.

Rising to The Challenge

Amongst the exciting times there have, of course, been obstacles that we’ve had to overcome, face and as a result adapt to. More recently, the impact of the global pandemic and fire risks associated with environmental change. The railway acknowledges the impact of using fossil fuels to power our locomotives and has taken initiatives to be as responsible as possible and has recently received a Heritage Railway Association award for its reinstatement of ecological environments to encourage the growth of species that have been identified as being under risk.

It’s with huge thanks to our dedicated volunteers, the whole NYMR team and our regular visitors who are always there to pick us back up and show their support which has kept us fighting and on track. In addition to a crisis campaign, (during the pandemic) which helped raise £440k in vital funds for the future of the railway. Additionally, we have also been truly blessed to have received many grants and donations from organisations including the Heritage Lottery Fund, and we also became the first Heritage Railway awarded National Portfolio Status by the Arts Council England, which has seen direct core funding towards improving our people focused charitable activities.

It’s thanks to this combination of support that we’ve been able to deliver pioneering work, via initiatives such as our Yorkshire's Magnificent Journey project, which has delivered seven major initiatives that are key to the long term survival of the railway including the renewal of key bridges at Goathland; fuss-free access coaches; apprenticeship and volunteer training programmes; a dedicated education carriage; and a lineside conservation initiative.

Looking Ahead

North Yorkshire Moors Railway is one of the most historic lines in the North of England, taking visitors on picturesque journeys along an 18-mile railway line aboard steam and heritage diesel trains. The railway passes through stunning scenery, from wooded valleys to beautiful countryside, stopping at charming villages and spectacular seaside locations.

We’re incredibly excited for this momentous year ahead for everyone at the NYMR including our volunteers, our visitors and the heritage railway sector. It’s been a challenging few years given events that were often completely out of our control but this year we’re going full steam ahead as we celebrate every aspect of the NYMR, honouring and thanking our supporters for keeping us on track for the last five decades and inspiring us to continue to drive forward into the next 50 years.

Our promise is to continue to improve the quality of the infrastructure, the railway vehicles and visitor experience for future generations to enjoy and we look forward to the next 50 years. This work will be carried out through our charitable aims focussing on volunteering, education and community, heritage and lineside conservation.


By being an adaptable, dynamic and innovative charity, our living museum railway experience inspires all generations. Our mission, as a team, is to engage with wider communities and encourage learning for all, and to ensure our future environmental and financial sustainability. Together, we are the NYMR!



A place where people can come and explore the NYMR’s rich industrial, cultural and natural heritage. A committed railway charity that does more than just move people. We are dedicated to delivering a fulfilling experience for all those who engage with us. We are first-class!



CARE: People matter to us. We support one another by showing kindness and respect; encouraging development, embracing diversity, and creating a safe, inclusive environment.

ENGAGE: We celebrate our heritage by sharing our passion, skills and knowledge to connect with our team, visitors, partners and communities.

INSPIRE: Create a can-do, positive and enjoyable environment which enables people to contribute, grow and make a difference.

ADAPT: Working together to embrace change, ensuring we are innovative, resilient, relevant and sustainable.


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