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Saturday, 26 July 2014

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Railwayman Michael Portillo chugs into Carlisle

Michael Portillo – the man credited with saving the famous Settle to Carlisle railway line – was mobbed as he arrived for celebrations to mark 25 years since it was spared the axe.

Michael Portillo photo
Michael Portillo

The former Government minister, now famous for his TV rail documentaries, signed dozens of autographs and posed for pictures as trainspotters, rail enthusiasts and fans of the renowned scenic route gathered in the city.

The line was proposed for closure by British Rail in the 1980s and a campaign was fought to save it before Mr Portillo, then transport minister, announced it would stay open on April 11, 1989.

He was the centre of attention a quarter of a century on as the 12.36pm service along the line arrived on platform three of Carlisle railway station yesterday.

Travellers disembarked from the packed carriages after enjoying the milestone journey, with many stopping for a chat with the broadcaster as he made his way through crowds across the curved rail bridge out into Court Square.

Dressed in a trademark blue pastel blazer, Mr Portillo, who presents shows including Great British Railway Journeys and Great Continental Railway Journeys, spoke to the News & Star on the way to a celebratory gathering.

He said he was “delighted” he was able to make the journey.

“It’s one of the great scenic railway routes through superb countryside,” he said. “It’s a monument to the people who built it.

“It’s been quite emotional today. There are so many people on the train from 25 years ago.”

The train arrived on time, bearing the name Anniversary Express across its front.

Tony Potts, from Whitehaven, who is chairman of the Copeland Rail User’s Group, was among those invited to the occasion.

He said of the route: “In terms of scenic beauty there’s no comparison in England. Our Cumbria coastal line has got not just fells but the sea. But the Carlisle to Settle line goes over the roof of England.”

A gathering was held at the Hallmark Hotel, attended by Mr Portillo, after the arrival of the train.

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