By Geoff Courtney
Michael Portillo, one of the highest-profile names in the world of railways, has become president of the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line.
A former Conservative MP, government minister and close friend of Margaret Thatcher, he will be welcomed into the fold of the scenic Cumbrian line’s many supporters because of his reputation as being the man who nearly 30 years ago saved the route from closure.
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Mr Portillo, 65, was Transport Minister in 1988, when the dark clouds were swirling over the 72-mile line. In the minds of many, closure was an odds-on certainty, a matter of when rather than if, and even the Government had announced it was ‘minded’ – political speak for ‘we’re going to do it’ – to approve BR’s closure application.
However, Mr Portillo’s predecessor as Transport Minister, David Mitchell, told him: “You have to save the Settle Carlisle,” and the new incumbent did just that, although he readily says he was not alone in that success.
Two key elements that ultimately helped to ensure the line remained open were firstly BR’s estimate of the cost to repair the Ribblehead viaduct, which was a major reason for closure, was challenged by a leading engineer, and secondly a rise in passenger numbers, due in part to a successful campaign by the Friends.
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