Branch Profile

Everything there is to know about the branch line from Keighley to Oxenhope.

From permanent way to signals, bridges to tunnels, gradients to curve radii, a sleeper by sleeper guide to the Worth Valley branch.

Technical Details

The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway is a single track line running 4 miles 75 chains from Keighley to Oxenhope. The 0 milepost is on the site of the former Keighley Station Junction signal box, approximately 2 chains to the east of the present connection with the national rail network. The “up” direction on lines of the former Midland Railway is towards Derby, where its Headquarters were located, and hence from Oxenhope to Keighley. Locomotive run-round facilities exist at both ends of the line: at Keighley the locomotives use the track running through platform 3, at Oxenhope a dedicated run-round loop line is used. A passing loop, which may be used by all classes of trains, is located at Damems Junction (2.3 miles) . What looks like a loop also exists at Haworth (4 miles) but this has always actually been a double ended siding.  The Railway does though have thoughts on signalling work, one option for which would make it a second (and very useful) passing place. The steepest gradient on the line is 1 in 56, which occurs in two places: Keighley Curve (0m.10ch to 0m.27ch.) and between Ingrow Tunnel (1m.35ch.) and Damems station (2m.0ch). The average gradient of the line is 1 in 70.

Signal & Telegraph

The line is worked by the ‘One Train Working’ system (O.T.W.) using a train staff containing an Annett’s key. All points on the main line, except those at Damems Junction, are secured by an Annett’s Lock. The O.T.W. staff may also be used to unlock the signal box lever frame at Damems Junction and institute electric token block working. This splits the line into two block sections: Keighley to Damems Junction and Damems Junction to Oxenhope. Provision also exists for unlocking a further Annett’s key at Keighley South Ground Frame to institute ‘Keighley Station Yard Working’, which enables the Keighley station area, between 0m and 03m, to be worked as a separate section.


Signalling on the line is a mixture of British Railways upper quadrant and Midland Railway lower quadrant semaphore signals. All points are operated by mechanical rodding from lever frames; the lever frames at Oxenhope use Midland Railway economical facing point locks.

Permanent Way

The most severe curve on the line is the down line to up line connection of Keighley West Crossover, (5.4 chains radius). There are two other check-railed curves: the 9 chain radius Keighley Curve (0m.5ch. to 0m.27ch.) and the 13 chains radius Globe Inn Curve (0m.32ch. to 0m.44ch.). The line is predominately laid in 60 feet lengths of 95lb per yd. bull head rail; the inside rail is shortened to 59ft. 7Hin. on sharp curves to keep the rail joints parallel. A short section of older 45ft. rails survives between 0m.51ch. and 0m.63ch. The rails are secured by steel keys into cast iron S1 chairs which rest mainly on wooden sleepers but approximately 700 yd. rest on concrete sleepers. More recently, some relaying has taken place in isolated locations away from public view, with modern welded flat bottom rail.


There are three sections of flat-bottomed rail: approx. 3 mile of 98lb per yd. between Damems Junction and Oakworth and approx. 250 yd. of 109lb per yd. north of Haworth station; Great Northern Straight, between the top of Keighley Bank and bridge 7, just north of Ingrow, was recently relaid in 109lb flat bottom rail. All three of these sections are laid on concrete sleepers. All pointwork on the line is made from 95lb per yd. bull head rail save the loop side of Haworth North Points, which uses 85lb per yd. bull head rail.

Tunnels & Bridges

There are two tunnels on the line: Ingrow Tunnel (150 yards long) and Mytholmes Tunnel (75 yards long). The Railway’s bridges number from 1 to 31 plus “X” of which four have been abandoned; 18 are underbridges and 9 overbridges (Bridge X was on the station approach road at Oxenhope over a mill dam) but there have been many alterations since the line was constructed by the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway Co. in 1867.

Midland Takeover

The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway Co. was vested with the Midland Railway in 1881 to allow the Midland to come to agreement with the Great Northern Railway, which had received authority to construct a line from Bradford and Halifax to Keighley. This marked a period of considerable change to the physical nature of the branch, in particular the Midland recognised that its potential was not being exploited due to its lack of operational flexibility. Until the take-over, there was a simply ‘basic railway’ from Keighley to Oxenhope, with no passing places so only one train could operate on the branch at any one time. This meant that as the passenger service even then was quite intense, there was little capacity for goods trains which is actually what the line was built for.

The Midland and Great Northern companies had agreed to share the Worth Valley track between Keighley station, which was rebuilt and enlarged into its present location, and Keighley (Great Northern Junction) was installed just short of a mile from Keighley. This involved doubling this section of track, together with Bridges1 to 4 ( the original Bridge 4 appears to have been a lengthy single track masonry and wooden viaduct) and constructing a new bridge (3A) over the double track of the Great Northern Railway’s Keighley Goods Branch.

In 1892, shortly after the Midland purchased the K.& W.V.R. and dissolved the original company, a deviation was constructed between 2miles 77 chains and 3 miles 26 chains to avoid the expense of major repairs to Vale Viaduct, which had been constructed out of timber. This deviation like the rest of the branch was built to accommodate double track as at that time, even the Midland’s additional facilities to make operation more flexible were heavily taxed. 

In the event, double track was never laid due to the difficult times of the First World War, after which traffic began to drop slightly, but appreciably, due to the introduction of reliable public transport into the valley and internal combustion lorries which could climb the hills. The Midland’s improvements included a new locomotive depot at Keighley, on the up side of the main line, north of the station beyond the Goods Yard, where there were usually about five or six locomotives based for the branch and local goods services.  This was always an outstation of either Manningham (Bradford) or Skipton sheds.

Apart from the doubling of the line from Keighley to Great Northern Junction, by the turn of the 20th Century, the Midland had installed a fully signalled passing loop at Oakworth which was bi-directional.  However, there was only ever one passenger platform at Oakworth, so there was never a timetable which had two passenger trains operating on the branch at once, although it was the norm for passenger and goods trains to operate together.

A ‘push & pull’ passenger working at Oakworth in the early 1950s with passing loop still in situ. The signal box is to the right hidden by the crossing gate lamp – N. Stead (KWVR Archives)

So heavy was the goods traffic that in addition to goods only trains, some of the passenger trains were operated as mixed, carrying both passengers and goods.  When British Railways removed most of the Midland’s additional infrastructure in 1955, the branch reverted to its pre-Midland capacity as Oakworth Loop and signal box were removed.  The result can be seen to this day in the level crossing at Oakworth remains large enough to accommodate two lines where the former loop crossed the road alongside the main line, and the down home signal is still the Midland one, which had two arms for the bi-directional signalling of the loop.  Only one of these of course now remains, as the down home.

At Haworth, the Midland installed a signal box alongside what looks like and is always referred to as ‘Haworth Loop’, about half a mile south of the station.  This though was never a passing loop, but rather a double ended siding which gave access to Haworth Goods Yard to the north and permitted a direct run from there to Oxenhope in the south.  The reason for this curious arrangement was due to the lack of land at Oxenhope for a headshunt to the goods yard, a problem which remains to this day. This meant, and still means, that it is very difficult to shunt Oxenhope yard when the Railway is operating at full capacity, as the headshunt can only accommodate a very short train.  To get round this, the Midland installed Haworth signalbox to split the Oakworth to Oxenhope section and made the two sections Oakworth to Haworth using electric token operation and a one train working staff from Haworth to Oxenhope.

This meant that when a train passed Haworth going north, a goods train or light engine could, using the OTW staff from Haworth, quickly get to Oxenhope and then shunt the yard until another train needed to get south of Haworth.  This made a huge difference to the operation of the branch.  Ironically, the present operators have precisely the same difficulty as there is, at busy times, a need to move locomotives to and from Haworth besides passenger trains and often a need to shunt the carriage and museum facilities at Oxenhope.  This could all be solved if Haworth signal box were to be re-opened.  A suitable ‘box (from Esholt Junction on the Leeds and Bradford to Ilkley lines) is now in place and preliminary work has been undertaken, but it is a long way off completion.

The original Haworth ‘box and signalling were removed in 1955 by British Railways, concurrently with the loop and signalling at Oakworth. Almost complete as this is written (Winter 2014/5) is a scheme to signal Keighley station and its environs, which will replace the current arrangements which were only ever intended to be temporary, but in the event have been used for many years.  This will included a splendid signal box which stands at the end of platform three at Keighley (moved from Shipley Bingley Junction when this closed in the early 1990s) mechanical and electric signals and other equipment to make operation much easier.  In effect, it will give the branch a second passing loop, more or less replacing the double line facility which used to exist from Keighley to Great Northern Junction.

At Keighley, the branch is physically linked to the Network Rail main line at Milepost 0, which remains in place. The junction is an end on one with a siding off the main line, which is passed for passenger operation; the junction faces to the north so it is necessary to reverse direction and use the network rail crossover from up to down lines if a through train from the KWVR needs to operate towards Leeds, or if a through train comes onto the KWVR from the north. This is a simple move which is often undertaken, particularly with light engines. There is a derailer at the point of the end on junction which is controlled from the nearest NR signal box, which is at York. There is a direct telephone line from a telephone box at the junction to York, so operation is very straightforward. On odd occasions, vehicles which have failed on the main line have been detached and left on what officially is the ‘KWVR private siding’; memorably this once included a complete train with a ‘Jubliee’ class steam locomotive which conveniently failed at Keighley on the main line.


The deviation required the construction of four bridges: 2 masonry (Bridges 18 and 19), 2 steel (Bridges 16 and 17) and the 75 yards long Mytholmes Tunnel (Bridge 20). With the exception of the demolition of Bridge 14 (an accommodation overbridge situated at 2m.34ch.) in 1923, and the replacement of the wrought iron trough girder Bridges 6 (0m.70ch) and 12 (1m.47ch.) by pre-cast concrete structures in 1954, few other changes took place until the present company took over the operation of the line in 1968. Since then, the following bridges have been abandoned and replaced by embankments: Bridge 3A (underbridge, 0m.33ch), Bridge 5 (occupation underbridge 0m.65ch), Bridge 15 (cattle creep, 2m.36ch.) and Bridge 23 (corn mill goit, 3m.59ch.)

Photos: Paul Livsey, Robin Lush and N. Stead (KWVR Archives)