CRL - Community Rail Lancashire

Ken Roberts (1929-2024)

One of Ribble Valley Rail’s founder members Ken Roberts sadly passed away in the Royal Blackburn Hospital on 26 May 2024 aged 95.

Ken who lived in Haydock Street, Roe Lee, Blackburn for 90 years, was an award-winning railway photographer and was closely involved in the campaign by Ribble Valley Rail to save the Blackburn to Hellifield line from closure in the 1980’s, in partnership with the Settle Carlisle Joint Action Committee, and subsequently in the campaign to restore regular passenger services along the line.

LMS Hughes Fowler 5MT 2-6-0 (CRAB) No 42863 stands at Wilpshire signal box – Ken Roberts

The campaign was successful and, on the 30 May 1994, regular passenger services were (re) introduced by Regional Railways NW, supported by Lancashire County Council and other local authorities, between Blackburn and Clitheroe. New stations were provided at Ramsgreave & Wilpshire, Langho, Whalley and Clitheroe. Ken became the volunteer ‘Station Master’ for Ramsgreave & Wilpshire station continuing to visit the station daily well into his 80s.

Ken was also a member of the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, one of the first to reopen as a heritage railway in the country. His particular interest was in the refurbishment and maintenance of the Pullman carriages that run regularly on the line.

Ken Roberts at Oxenhope station 2008, with one of his beloved Pullman train carriages – Pete Eastham

Ken travelled extensively across the world by rail and was in New York on the fateful day of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre Twin Towers. He was on New York Penn Station when the disaster happened and was able to help hundreds of terrified people trying to escape the devastation by rail, some, never having travelled by rail before.

Ken had an Amtrak timetable with him and soon a queue built up, and at its head, a little chap with a broad Blackburn accent, a long way from Oxenhope carriage and wagon department, directing Americans to trains which would take them to safety: an unsung hero in a moment of tragedy and terror.

Ken’s loyal friend Peter Eastham, from Langho, with whom he volunteered for more than half a century in the carriage and wagon department Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, said his collection of photographs are being digitised.

Peter said: “Ken’s superb collection of photographs is safe in the care of Nigel Harris, the former editor of Rail magazine. Nigel has now scanned and digitalised several hundred of Ken’s negatives.”

Richard Watts, Chair Community Rail Lancashire, added: “Ken was an enthusiastic supporter of the line and through his devotion to Ramsgreave & Wilpshire station ensured that it was always a welcoming place for people to catch their train. He diligently reported anything that was wrong and ensured that the railway followed through to sort it out. The floral displays always added a further welcoming touch to the station.“

Entwistle station in its heyday – Ken Roberts