The Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Union Railway was formed in 1866 and work began in 1871. However the project ran into financial difficulties and the line had to be completed by the North Eastern Railway.
The line originally opened in 1883, but poor quality engineering by the original company, including the collapse of a section between Sandsend and Kettleness into the sea, meant delays while a new route was surveyed and tunnels cut. The new work was finally completed in 1883. The line ran for 16 miles between Loftus and Whitby and included three tunnels and five iron viaducts. It was popular for summer holiday traffic and also served three ironstone mines with various mineral branches joining the line. It joined the Stockton and Darlington Coastguard Extension Railway West of Saltburn. The line between Loftus and Whitby West Cliff stations closed to passengers in May 1958.