The success achieved by the North Yorkshire Moor Railway, since the reopening of the second platform at Whitby, provides a reminder of just how close this North Riding town came to having no railways at all.
The first railway to serve Whitby was the Whitby & Pickering; this was surveyed by George Stephenson and authorised on 6 May 1833. The line opened from Whitby to Grosmont on 8 June 1835 and thence to Pickering on 26 May 1836. The line was initially horse operated and included a rope-operated inclined plane. The line was taken over by the York & North Midland Railway on 30 June 1845 and the process of improving the line to make it capable of accommodating steam services commenced along with a connection from Pickering southwards to connect with the Y&NMR line from York to Scarborough at Rillington Junction. Steam services commenced between Pickering and Levisham on 1 September 1846 and from Levisham to Goathland on 1 July 1847; the inclined plane was replaced by a deviation route that opened on 1 July 1865. The Y&NMR became part of the North Eastern Railway in 1854.
The second railway to reach Whitby was opened courtesy of the North Yorkshire & Cleveland Railway, which was authorised on 10 July 1854 to construct a line from Picton on the East Coast main line between Northallerton and Eaglescliffe and Grosmont. However, financial problems resulted in the line being rescued by the North Eastern Railway on 23 July 1858 along with authorisation to construct a mineral branch to Rosedale. The line opened to passenger services from Picton to Stokesley on 3 March 1857. The next section — from Stokesley to a temporary terminus at Castleton — opened on 1 April 1861. The final section, from Grosmont to Castleton, opened on 2 October 1865. A link line from Battersby to Nunthorpe opened for freight traffic on 1 June 1864, but was it was not until 1 April 1868 that the route, with its one intermediate station at Great Ayton, opened for passenger services. With the closure of the line from Battersby to Picton to passenger traffic on 14 June 1954 (and to freight from Battersby to Stokesley on 2 August 1965), all traffic on the Esk Valley route now has to reverse at Batterby.
From the north came the Whitby, Redcar & Middlesbrough Union Railway. This was authorised on 19 July 1866 to construct a line from Loftus to Whitby. Construction commenced in 1871 but construction was slow and shoddily completed, with the result that the company was soon in trouble. As a result, on 1 July 1875 the NER took on the lease of the line; the completed line opened finally on 3 December 1883. The WR&MUR was formally absorbed by the NER on 5 July 1889.
At Whitby West Cliff, the Whitby, Redcar & Middlesbrough Union Railway was to be met by the final arrival in the town in the guise of the Scarborough & Whitby Railway. Although promoted as early as 1848, it was not until 29 June 1871 that the Act permitting the construction of this line was passed. Construction started on 3 June 1872, but financial problems resulted in significant delays in the completion of the 20½-mile long route. The structures built for the line include the substantial 13-arch viaduct at Larpool to the west of Whitby by which the line gained entrance to Whitby West Cliff station. The delays in the line’s construction along with the need to obtain supplementary powers to raise additional funds resulted in the possibility of the route being abandoned, but gain rescue came in the guise of the NER. The line opened throughout on 16 July 1885 and was operated by the NER from the outset. The NER formally absorbed the company on 1 July 1898.
As all the lines serving Whitby were operated by or owned by the NER, at the Grouping in 1923 all passed to the LNER and thus, at Nationalisation, they became part of British Railways (North Eastern Region).
The first casualty amongst the railways that served Whitby was the route north to Loftus; passenger services over the line were withdrawn on 5 May 1958 at which time the line north of Whitby West Cliff was to close completely through to Loftus. (A section south from Loftus was reopened in the 1970s to serve a new potash mine at Boulby.)
Whitby West Cliff station closed on 12 June 1961, with the result that the surviving services from Scarborough had to reverse at Prospect Hill Junction and descend to join the Esk Valley line into Whitby Town. This was not ideal and undoubtedly weakened the case for the survival of the Whitby-Scarborough line.
In 1963, Dr Richard Beeching produced his report; in a bombshell for those living in and around Whitby, his report advocated the closure of all three lines serving the town. Services were withdrawn from the Whitby Town to Scarborough route on 6 March 1965, on which date the line from Scarborough Gallows Close goods yard to Whitby West Cliff, plus the connecting line from Prospect Hill Junction to Bog Hall Junction, closed completely. On the same date, passenger services were withdrawn from Grosmont to Rillington Junction and the line from Grosmont to Pickering was closed completely; the link between Pickering and Rillington was to survive for freight traffic until 4 July 1966. Fortunately, campaigning ensured that the Esk Valley line through Grosmont towards Middlesbrough survived, ensuring that Whitby retained a railway connection and also that part of the historic Whitby & Pickering line survived.
Following the various closures, passenger facilities at Whitby (Town) were much reduced, ending up with the station having only a single platform; it was the lack of a second platform that severely restricted the number of through trains that the NYMR could operate over the line from Grosmont and so the decision was taken to restore platform 2 in 2013. The new platform was brought back into use the following year.
With the success of the restored platform at Whitby and the regular appearance of steam in the station, the NYMR can be said to have reversed successfully one of the more unfortunate closures of the Beeching era.