FOR MORE than a century Otley's railway was of major importance to the town - carrying goods and people to neighbouring communities.

But it is now more than 55 years since the last train ran and the rails on the route were dismantled.

The town's railway station was opened as a joint venture between the North Eastern Railway and the Midland Railway in 1865, and closed in 1965.

Now the line is being given a new lease of life as a traffic free walking and cycling route for the first section of the Wharfedale Greenway, which could eventually stretch all the way from Pool-in-Wharfedale to Bolton Abbey.

Otley Museum volunteer David Clegg looks back on the line's history and demise.

He said: "The railway through Otley had been in existence for 100 years from the first train arriving from Leeds via Arthington on 1st February 1865 to the last timetabled train departing to Ilkley on 20th March 1965.

"The route connected eastwards to the Leeds-Harrogate line at Arthington and westwards to the Guiseley-Ilkley/Skipton line near Menston and Burley in Wharfedale.

"From Arthington, the route passed through Pool and on to Otley, passing under the A660 Leeds Road by a tunnel. The route then followed the current by-pass route until West Chevin Road, where the trackbed continued along the bottom of The Chevin to cross the Bradford Road at Ellar Ghyll and on to Milnerwood Junction, where lines to Menston & Burley diverged.

"The railway station and goods facilities in Otley covered around half a mile in length between West and East Chevin Roads.

"For passengers, the station building was sited just to the east of the top of Station Road and was in a style similar to Ilkley. It remained largely unaltered until demolition in c.1970.

"Originally, access from the station building to the westbound platform was possible only by walking across the tracks. The footbridge was only there to allow pedestrians to cross from Station Road to access the path up the Chevin, via Birdcage Walk. A subway was eventually added in 1892. Clearly this was a major event, as reported in the “Wharfedale” issue of 22nd April 1892 with a song being written to celebrate the occasion.

"There were no doubt busy periods for Otley passengers, with 51 trains per day reported in 1906, but this had reduced to a mere 5 by 1964, handling on average just 21 passengers per day in the last 10 years of operation. This may have justified closure at the time but would surely have been much increased by today’s commuter requirement. The undated photo shows a busy scene at the station.

"Goods were a major source of traffic. There was a large two storey stone warehouse with adjoining office to the west of Station Road, this being added to in 1898 with a single storey extension.

"A weighbridge with office was adjacent to Station Road, the metal bridge still being in existence to this day (pictured).

"Two concrete prefabricated animal feed storage buildings were added in c.1959. A photograph from 1968 shows goods facilities looking west from top of Station Road.

"The coal yard was sited adjacent to East Chevin Road. This provided an elevated double track dock where coal was deposited from wagons to eight separate bays below, for collection by local coal merchants. A coal depot photograph shows a wagon from Otley Gas Co unloading in the 1930’s.

"An array of goods sidings was provided to the west of the warehouse, extending to West Chevin Road. Adjacent to that road was a loading dock approximately 150 yards long to allow loading/unloading at wagon level via a ramp. Military equipment destined for Farnley and Weston camps, farm animals and circuses were known to utilise this facility. A photograph from 1964 shows the dock with Burras Lane in the background.

"The goods yard contained a 10 ton crane. Although removed in 1966, the base of this still survives among the undergrowth (pictured). A photograph from 1956 shows the crane with bales of wood pulp destined for Garnetts paper mill. DP&E sports fields in the background. One wonders whether trains of some description will be seen in Otley once again as a result of current proposals to rejuvenate public transport facilities."