Heritage rail and its future

By | Category: Travel tips & opinions

Throughout Europe, heritage railways are worth about €4 billion to their country’s economies.

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway

In the UK, heritage rail attracts, according to the Heritage Rail Association, thirteen million visitors a year, employees 4,000 people, has about 22,000 volunteers and is woth about £400 million to local economies.

Usually it is at Easter that they re-open to the public after their winter hibernation but, of course, this year it didn’t happen. June is a possibility for a re-opening with July being more likely according to some groups.

Because they didn’t open some will be in a parlous state unless they can attract funding either from private sources or from governments. Others will weather the coronavirus outbreak because they have only volunteers to maintain and run their workshops and trains.

But some have grown to become largish businesses and key to tourism in some destinations.

Take the North Yorkshire Moors Railway for example. It says that it can’t claim insurance compensation for business interruption and that the government has not offered monetary aid to charities yet and existing loan schemes would only put the railway into debt. It says it could lose a million and so is fundraising to plug the gap.

But so are many other heritage railway groups. On a much smaller scale, the world’s oldest preserved railway – the Talyllyn Railway in Wales – estimated that it needed £75,000. It raised that sum just as April ended and says that that sum gives it enough to cover its running costs until the end of June.

Talyllyn Railway

The West Somerset Railway estimates that it needs about half a million yet, so far, it has raised just over £65,000. The Bluebell Railway in East Sussex hasn’t specified an amount it needs but is fundraising as well as is the Nene Valley Railway near Peterborough and many others.

With over 170 heritage rail groups in the UK, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, the concern is that they might not survive coronavirus. Others would say the grit and determination of members will see them through somehow just like they have seen them through before.

The Severn Valley Railway appeal
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