A railway between Malton & Driffield was first proposed in 1845 as the Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Hull Direct Railway but within days it became the less cumbersome Malton & Driffield Junction Railway. It was clear from the outset that the line would only prove successful if it opened after the completion of the Thirsk – Malton line which was being promoted by George Hudson’s York & North Midland Railway (YNMR). John Birkinshaw and Alfred Dickens (younger brother of Charles Dickens) were appointed to build the line; Birkinshaw had previous experience in railway engineering and was a pupil of Robert Stephenson.
The 20 mile Malton & Driffield Junction Railway received its Act on 26th June 1846 and although the route was quickly surveyed it was decided to delay construction until work had started on the Thirsk line. By 1847 there was no progress on the Thirsk line so work started at the southern end of the M&DR and on the Burdale Tunnel which was just under as mile in length and the only major engineering feature on the line.
The company quickly ran into financial difficulty as the ‘railway mania’ that has been gripping the country was in decline and share capital proved difficult to find with predicted costs already exceeded. Construction was suspended once sufficient work had been done on the tunnel to prevent flooding. By 1849, the M&DR were verging on bankruptcy and the company approached YNMR Chairman George Hudson for finance. Hudson had previously bought £40,000 worth of unauthorised M&DR shares but was in financial difficulty himself by this time and was unable to help; he was soon forced to resign as chairman of the YNMR.
Work on the line restarted in 1850 with savings being made on the construction by shortening the route by running at a higher level with steeper gradients and downgrading the line to single track throughout (the southern portal of the tunnel had been built for two tracks but the northern portal was only wide enough for one) which meant that the original plan to use the line as a trunk route between Hull and Newcastle would have to be abandoned.
Work on the Thirsk to Malton line had still not started despite promises to build the line and it was suggested that the M&DR should take over construction but, instead, a writ was served on the Newcastle & Berwick Railway, now responsible for building the line to force them to start work. A new Thirsk & Malton Railway Bill was put before parliament and on 18th October 1851 construction finally started.
Progress on the two lines was now rapid and they were both completed in 1853 and officially opened on 19th May. The first train carrying shareholders and invited guests covered both lines running from Pilmoor (the junction with the York – Darlington main line) through Malton to Driffield and then back to Malton. Following the official opening there was a Board of Trade inspection that required some changes which were quickly made with the line opening to passenger traffic on 1st June 1853 with intermediate stations at Settrington, North Grimston, Wharram Burdale, Fimber (later Sledmere & Fimber) Wetwang and Garton. It was planned that the T & M line should open on the same day but this was delayed following objections by the Board of Trade and the line opened on 7th June or shortly after that date.
From the outset, the line was worked by the York & North Midland Railway who amalgamated with the York, Newcastle & Berwick Railway and the Leeds Northern Railway on 31st July 1854 to form the North Eastern Railway. The M&DR also applied to join the new company which it did on 28th October 1854 with one director out of a total of 17 NER board members.
The new line left the Scarborough line 1/4 east of Malton running parallel on double tracks for a further 1/4 of a mile before branching to the east to reach Scarborough Junction, the junction with the Thirsk & Malton line. From this point the line was single track, with a rarely used, passing place at Wharram, to a junction with the Hull – Bridlington branch of the YNMR 1/4 mile south of Driffield station. All the stations were provided with single short low platforms which were raised in the c. mid 1890s.
The passenger service, known locally as the ‘Malton Dodger’, remained much the same throughout the lines life with three daily return trips from Malton with a fourth train being added during some seasons and additions trains to cater for market days at Malton and Driffield; there was also a daily pick-up goods train from Malton. The journey time was between 50 – 60 minutes with most trains consisting of two carriages hauled by a small tank engine from the Malton shed. Occasionally horse boxes and carriage trucks (flat trucks for the conveyance of carriages for the local gentry) were attached to passenger trains. Between the wars there were some additional scenic excursions where the trains stopped for long at some of the stations for passengers to view the station gardens. In later years the line was sometimes used by holiday specials from Scotland and the North East serving Scarborough (requiring a double reversal at Malton) and Butlin’s Filey Holiday Camp.
Regular coal trains served coal drops located at each of the stations and livestock trains ran when required, usually on market days. Initially most of the freight traffic was agricultural including manure and fertilisers inbound, arable crops outbound. Sometime in the 1800s a small limestone quarry at Settrington generated business, this quarry closed around the turn of the century. Later the quarry trade became important, the first big quarry to ship limestone was at North Grimston; by the mid 1920s, this quarry was shipping about 28,000 tons of limestone per annum. The owners of North Grimston later moved their operation to Burdale. The next quarry to open was at Wharram and this generated a significant output of chalk during the 1920s. Wharram quarry closed in the early 1930s but a little later re-opened under new management but at a greatly reduced output. The final big quarry, and the largest of them all, was at Burdale. This opened in 1925 but the operation was much less mechanised than Wharram. The output of Burdale peaked in the late 40s/early 50s with annual shipments of about 50,000 tons.
Passenger traffic was at its peak just before WW1 but the M&DR always remained one of the less profitable lines on the NER. After WW1 the line came under the control of the London & North Eastern Railway under the general grouping on 1st January 1923. Fares immediately rose and passenger numbers began to suffer as busses reached the Yorkshire Wolds in 1924. Busses ran right into village centres while many of the stations were sited some distance from the villages they served.
The General Strike of 1926 and the coal shortage that followed further damaged the railway with an emergency service of two daily trains running between Driffield and Malton and it wasn’t long before local station closures were announced due to increasing road competition. Intermediate stations between Scarborough and York were closed on 22nd September 1930 leaving only Malton and Seamer open. The Malton – Gilling service was next to go, closing to passengers on 1st January 1931. Surprisingly the Malton & Driffield line survived these early cuts, perhaps because there was no suitable parallel road. Road competition also affected agricultural freight traffic although all the stations closed to passenger traffic remained open for freight and the Malton & Driffield was actually at its busiest between the wars carrying stone from the local quarries.
During WW2, the line was regularly used by troop trains and for transporting munitions to the many airfields in the East Riding and at one time sentries were posted at both ends of the Burdale tunnel to prevent sabotage. All station signage was removed in 1940.
The railways were nationalised on 1st January 1948 with the M&DR coming under the control of British Railways North Eastern Region. Initially the pre-war service of three daily passenger trains and a pick-up goods train was reinstated. For the first time the line was used regularly by long distance passenger trains with the resumption of the summer Saturday holiday trains from the north east and Scotland but with the ever increasing popularity of road transport this was to be short lived and the passenger service was withdrawn from 5th June 1950 with the last train running on 3rd June; this train was packed. The line was temporarily reopened to passengers between 12-16th February 1953 due to bad weather. Potential customers were informed of the opening on the previous evening’s news. It is not known if all the stations were used.
The line remained open for freight and passenger excursions but the pick-up goods service was reduced to Tuesdays and Thursdays with a short running to Sledmere & Fimber on Saturdays. The platforms at some of the stations were shortened to serve the goods trains. Despite Burdale quarry reaching its peak after the war, it closed in 1955 with the loss of the last regular freight traffic on the line. With the quarry closure it was no longer to keep the line open although in the hard winter of 1957/8 when much of the Wolds were cut off by snow a special passenger and goods service was again introduced over the line. Two enthusiasts’ specials ran in 1957, the first on 02/06/57 and organised by the Branch Line Society, and the second being organised by the RCTS on and running on 23/06/57. Final closure came on 20th October 1958 although the last goods train ran on 16th October, the very last train along the line running on 18th October.
Most of the track was lifted shortly after closure and sold for scrap with the exception of a short stub left at Malton to provide access to the bacon factory at Norton and to serve the Thirsk & Malton line until 10th August 1964. At the Driffield end, the double track section from Driffield West was still in use for trains to/from the Market Weighton direction until 14th June 1965.
Our thanks to Nick Catford of the excellent Disused Stations website for permission to reproduce this information.