Records tumble as public flock to heritage lines

British Railways Standard Class 4 4-6-0 leaving Highley station on the Severn Valley Railway, Highley, Shropshire.
British Railways Standard Class 4 4-6-0 leaving Highley station on the Severn Valley Railway, Highley, Shropshire.
Words: Robin Jones/Heritage Railway

The first reports from several heritage railways suggest they enjoyed a bumper year and festive season.

The Epping Ongar Railway revealed it had set a new record by carrying 45,710 passengers – 3,906 more than its previous record set in 2018.

Strong attendances at events including the real ale festival in July and the Ongar Dinosaurs in May contributed to the impressive result, boosted by more than 16,000 people riding on the Santa specials.

New for 2020 will be a Mother’s Day breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea offer on board a vintage train on March 22, with on ‘on-board street party’ to mark VE Day on May 8 and a 1960s day on August 2.

Over 20,000 people travelled on Nene Valley Railway’s Santa specials.

Nene Valley Railway

Another record was set at the Kirklees Light Railway, where an increase of 13.5% over 2018 saw passenger numbers soar above 65,000 for the first time.

The Talyllyn Railway carried 49,344 passengers – its best performance since 2007. Although that was only 487 passengers more than in 2018, fare adjustments resulted in a 9.4% increase in ticket revenue – despite running 3% fewer trains than the previous year.

‘Far better than expected’

Secondary spends in both the catering and retail operations matched 2018, which was record breaking in this field. General manager Stuart Williams said: “At the start of the year with the political uncertainty, we could only project a flat year all round – so this performance is far better than we expected. “

The National Railway Museum recorded 782,000 visits during the 2018/19 financial year – the second best in a decade, bettered only by its Great Gathering reunion of all six LNER A4s in 2013-14.

The Llangollen Railway’s 50 pre-Christmas Santa specials sold out, attracting visitors from beyond the line’s traditional catchment area.

Around 8700 seats were sold to the regular base of family groups and additional strong support came from many first-time visitors, while 21 post-Christmas mince pie specials also brought out the crowds to Llangollen.

In addition, three specials were booked for parties to enjoy a festive meal, a real ale train and an excursion for members of the North Wales narrow gauge railways.

General manager Liz McGuinness said: “We are delighted with the success of this year’s festive season.

“On Boxing Day the Llangollen Railway was the only standard gauge railway operating in North Wales, as the main line trains took an extended holiday. The number of visitors over the festive period serves to demonstrate the economic benefit the railway produces for the region in what would otherwise be a closed season for attractions.”

The Nene Valley Railway recorded its best festive season for several years, reporting that more than 20,000 people travelled on its Santa specials.

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