The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway was originally opened as part of the Skipton to Ilkley Line, which was built by the Midland Railway in 1888. The aim of this line was to connect the smaller towns with the iconic Settle-Carlisle Railway and onward services to the far north and Scotland.
Initially the line was very successful in passenger and freight traffic, but both of these dwindled following the Second World War. The Beeching Report recommended the closure of the railway, and all services were decisively withdrawn in 1965.
In 1969 the Yorkshire Dales Railway Society was formed, with the aim of re-opening some of the region's defunct routes. In 1970 they managed to acquire Embsay station, and in 1979 they were able to resume short services. In 1987, the preservation society reached Holywell, and Stoneacre reopened in 1991. At about this time the railway was given its current name, as the plan to extend to the current terminus at Bolton Abbey was well underway. Services to this station commenced in 1997, and the line has remained a popular local attraction since that time.