Heritage railways as tourist attractions

By | Category: Travel news
an artist's impression of the new Caernarfon station - looks better than some new mainline stations

an artist’s impression of the new Caernarfon station – it looks better than some new mainline stations

The heritage railway industry is barely fifty years old but its impact is significant. Throughout Europe, this type of tourism was valued at about €4 billion a year a few years ago yet it largely exists by using volunteers.

In the UK alone there are over forty preserved railways, all looked after by local bands of people who give up their days, holidays and weekends to preserve a past that evokes nostalgia amongst people who – in the main – must have been too young to travel on a timetabled British Rail steam journey.

To give an idea of how important these railway lines can be to a community, I give as an example the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway which links the north-west coast of Wales with the north coast. Originally a three mile line when it began in 1997, it now runs 25 miles and is the UK’s longest heritage railway.

This week it was announced that it was replacing the temporary station at Caernarfon with a new £2.2 million one. That they could afford a new station was interesting because, in the early days, this would have taken years to achieve. That they were planning to start work in March next year and only take a year to construct it would put many public works’ timetables to shame. They aren’t putting up a small, bus-stop type shelter either of the sort that mainline railway companies have on some stations. This will be a two-storey building with a retail and catering area as well as a small heritage centre.

It is estimated that the new station will bring another 5,000 visitors to the area each year. Already it is calculated that the railway brings about £25 million into the local economy and is responsible for 400 paid jobs that might otherwise not exist if the railway didn’t. Image that value being replicated at all the other railway heritage sites throughout not just the UK but the whole of Europe!

When the Flying Scotsman went on the east coast mainline back to York recently, it was brought to a stop along the tracks by people anxious to have a look at it. Tens of thousands of people were estimated to have seen the train on its journey and many more via both the mainstream and social media.

It proves that, firstly, heritage railways aren’t just for anoraks and, secondly, that our industrial heritage can be an economic powerhouse albeit on a small but important scale for our out-of-city areas. And all because of volunteers!


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