For many preserved railways the rolling stock - steam locomotives and diesels from yesteryear - are the focus of attention, but Wensleydale Heritage Railway takes a different approach.
Guy Loveridge, the chairman since 2019, describes the line as “a linear trip back in time” because the focus on visitors has seen three stations restored to represent three distinct eras in the history of rural branch lines.
That work, at Scruton and Leeming Bar, as well as Bedale, has created attractions that answer a sometime criticism that those waiting for trains have had little to while away the time.
The restoration work has answered that and might typically provide a distraction for 45 minutes or an hour, but it also provides a living-history opportunity and the stations are visited by many of the district’s primary school pupils to aid their studies.
For those who want a brew before taking a trip, a new answer has also been introduced with a former first class dining car, which has seen a previous life on mainline duties.
It allows visitors to enjoy refreshments in the warm and atmospheric conditions of a ‘proper’ carriage – complete with a 17-slice toaster, which should settle any arguments about its previous working life.
As a package, the visitor offer might be seen to overshadow the traditional element of the railway - its trains.
They are cared for by a team of 400 volunteers, all safety qualified to work on a railway, and although they include steam traction for some summer services and the hugely popular annual Polar Express, they also feature Pacer trains for many routine services.
While not the typical fodder of heritage railways, Mr Loveridge defended their use as economical and comfortable in service for the Wensleydale line and also – with some about 40 years old already – a currently unloved example of rolling stock which needs to be preserved to be appreciated by future generations.
They serve both visitors and locals well, with passengers made up of about 30 per cent from the area and the rest tourists.
Visitors provide a welcome boost to the economy and it has been estimated that every £1 spent on the railway results in £7 going into the local economy from visitors, with a two-mile corridor around the railway being the chief beneficiary.
An important element of that customer spend comes when the annual Polar Express service is operated, from November until the festive period, which sees accommodation booked up as visitors flood in.
Polar Express is a grand affair, staged by a theatrical production company who effectively take over the railway with volunteers still running the trains, with a ‘North Pole’ constructed at Constable Burton.
For many, that is the pinnacle of the year’s events at the railway, but 2023 may have a rival contender.
That is the 30th anniversary of Wallace and Gromit storming the entertainment world for a second time in The Wrong Trousers, and talks are at an advanced level to stage a similar event, in conjunction with Aardman Animations, during next year’s summer holidays.
The link-up could see more than train rides, however, with the potential for Oscar-winning animators to work with schoolchildren in the area.
For a railway line that closed to passengers in the 1950s and survived only to take freight traffic from a quarry, that is quite an achievement.
In fact, communities in the area have another reason to be grateful because the line also serves the Army to transport armoured vehicles to and from Catterick, keeping them off the roads.
Getting to this stage has been a long haul, with both a trust and limited company set up to move the process along and passenger services finally resuming in 2003.
Mr Loveridge said: “My motto for the railway is to ‘under-promise and over-deliver’, an approach which appears to be working well.”