KEIGHLEY’S place as part of one of the world’s biggest railway empires is to be portrayed for the first time.

The planned new visitor centre at Keighley station will put the former Worth Valley branch line at the heart of the Midland Railway’s story.

Artefacts from the glory days of steam railways will be on show at the centre inside the station’s historic water tower.

The Midland Railway Society will be heavily involved in running the centre, which is expected to be operational next year if funding can be found.

The Keighley News last week exclusively revealed plans by the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway Preservation Society to restore the tower.

Chairman Dr Matt Stroh said the society would be looking for a “six-figure sum” from grant-giving bodies to transform the 130-year-old building from a store room into a visitor centre.

Members of the railway’s flourishing Young Persons Group will help staff the centre, and ensure exhibits appeal to young visitors.

The water tower, which could originally hold 30,000 gallons of water, is one of the few remaining structures of its type in the country. It was built as part of the Midland Railway’s massive expansion of Keighley station in the late 1800s in conjunction with the branch line to Haworth and Oxenhope.

Mr Stroh said the Midland Railway Society, which is based in Derby, is keen to get involved in the project.

He added: “The tower is a special building – it’s largely unchanged inside since when the Midland Railway was using it, and it’s still used today.

“When we took Midland Railway Society members on a tour of the line, they were excited when they realised we still had a building like that.

“They’re very interested in using the building to tell the Midland Railway story, and displaying artefacts that tell people how a real branch line was run.”

Although plans are in the early stages, it is understood the Midland Railway Society will oversee the visitor centre in partnership with the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.

Similar facilities run successfully elsewhere on the line, such as the Vintage Carriages Trust’s Museum at Ingrow and the nearby mini-museum run by the Bahamas Locomotive Society.

The Midland Railway hopes to exhibit some of the hundreds of artefacts currently stored out of sight in a Derby council depot.

The Midland Railway was formed in 1845 and its huge network included the Leeds/Bradford lines to Carlisle and Morecambe – going through Keighley – and the busy branch line along the Worth Valley.