A CHANCE cuppa has led to an engineer and a former police officer going full steam ahead into life on the railway.

Stuart and Gayle Dean had only popped into the station cafe at Hellifield for some quick refreshment when they got chatting to owner Stephen Goodall.

He told the Waddington couple they might well be his final customers - as he was due to retire that day.

Within a few days, and several phone calls, the Deans had agreed to take over the eaterie.

Stuart said: “We spent about a fortnight giving the place a bit of a spruce up with the help of both families and opened in late September.”

And since then they have marvelled at how busy the grade-II listed North Yorkshire station has been.

The Flying Scotsman was a regular visitor to Hellifield last December - with trainspotters eager to capture a rare night photo of the legendary engine.

Stuart added: “Whenever the Flying Scotsman comes up from Manchester Victoria, through Blackburn, it waters at Hellifield.

“In December it was being used on the Santa Specials so it visited the station four or five times and it always brings in the crowds.”

The family venture, which also includes Gayle's 12-year-old son Peter, has also won the seal of approval from station dog Benji.

“What’s been so pleasing is that we have a real mix of different people coming in,” added Stuart.

“It isn’t just locals, commuters, cyclists, walkers or passers-by, it’s all of them.

“Some afternoons we can have a group of enthusiasts in one corner, some cyclists taking a well-earned break in another corner.”

Part of Hellifield’s appeal is its position near the junction of Carlisle and Leeds-bound services.

Until now Gayle has been responsible for the day-to-day operation but within the week Stuart, who used to work in the utilities industry, will be there full-time also. In a nod to the station’s heritage, the cafe is now known as Shed24H, after an old engine shed there.