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By Train to Keswick

Driving along the modern main road by Bassenthwaite Lake between Keswick and Cockermouth, with Skiddaw across the water, how many people now realise that they're driving along the track of one of the old Lake District railways?

Western; The Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway; 2001, ISBN: 0853615640For almost a century from 1865 both goods and passenger trains ran on this line. It played a significant role in opening up the northern lakes area to visitors.

Prior to the opening of the line it took three hours (and more in bad weather) for a horse-drawn coach to travel between the Penrith railway station and Keswick. This was now cut to around fifty minutes by the new trains, which were timed to link with mainline arrivals and departures.

The line was probably too short for it ever to be seriously profitable, and the oft-promised economic booms never fully materialised. Tourism grew substantially, and the Keswick Hotel by the station was built by the railway company to accommodate the increased flow of visitors. The annual interdenominational Christian convention in Keswick brought thousands of rail travellers along the line in special trains. After well over a century the Convention still thrives but this year (2008) they'll arrive over a three week period in thousands of private cars.

There were some good times, but it needed more than a short summer tourist season to generate the revenues needed for a prosperous company. The goods services went up and down with fluctuating trade. Changing technologies in the coal and steel industries affected demand for cross-country transportation between east and west coasts. The directors struggled on until the early-1920s when national transport legislation forced a merger into the London Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR).

Whereas a local board had up to this point been able to focus on local priorities, the line now became merely a distant off-shoot of a London-based company. Nationalisation followed in the late-1940s so that it was a government minister who eventually pulled the plug on passenger services west of Keswick.

Traffic could not be sustained even on the Penrith-Keswick stretch when faced with competition from motorised road transport. Firstly buses and later the rise of the private car and motorway building were too strong for the railway to resist. In 1972 the last train ran to Keswick.

Or was it the last? There have been moves to reinstate the line east of Keswick. As the northern areas of the Lake District become increasingly popular as a tourist destination, internationally as well as domestically, there is a need for efficient access without increase in road traffic. A private company, CKP Railways plc, has been set up locally in Cumbria to work on the practicalities of this and has serious intentions of reopening the line. The day may well come!



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