1st Mar, 2021

A struggle to keep railway running

Rob George 15th Jan, 2021

HERITAGE rail chiefs on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway have revealed passenger numbers plummeted by more than 75 per cent in 2020 owing to Covid-19.

Despite carrying almost 29,000 passengers in 2020, the much-loved attraction lost more than six months revenue because of the impact of Coronavirus and is not expected to run any services until March or April at the earliest.

GWSR bosses reported a fall in passengers from 125,000 in 2019 to just over 29,000 in 2020 and warned further fund-raising will be needed to ensure it has a future.

Richard Winstanley, volunteer finance director of GWSR Plc, said: “It’s a truly sobering statistic which starkly underlines the effect of the pandemic: not just on us, but on the leisure industry as a whole.

“Despite the restrictions of running a Covid-compliant service, we have managed to more than cover the cost of running trains. However this was far from sufficient to meet all of the company’s obligations so we needed to use some of our financial reserves to maintain the company.”

Having seen their 2020 hit the buffers just eight days after opening on March 7, GWSR saw no trains run for five months until August 15.

However, the service came to an end with the second November lockdown, although that was lifted in time for the railway’s ‘Santa Experience’ service, which was modified to ensure good social distancing.

This meant that although it was fully booked, the railway could only carry fewer than half of the 11,000 passengers who travelled over Christmas 2019.

“We were able to obtain vital grant funding from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund (up to £318,000), administered by the Heritage Lottery Fund to support business overheads; and loan funding partly guaranteed by Government but administered by our bankers,” Mr Winstanley said.

The railway is now shut. New Covid restrictions put paid to the railway’s post-Christmas ‘Mince Pie’ trains and unsold mince pies and other refreshment stock has been donated to Tewkesbury foodbanks.

“No trains will operate now until March or April at the earliest and that timeframe is dependent on progress being made to bring coronavirus under control,” he added.

“Typically, in January we would expect to see income from advance ticket purchases, including party bookings which are an important part of the railway’s revenue; and for forthcoming special events. These revenue streams have, of course, dried up.

“This means that further fund raising will likely be required during the year in order that we can provide the financial assurance to maintain the railway for the future,” he added.

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