Published: 29th November 2014
The Christmas season is a vital time for our preserved railway movement. It is the last chance to make some serious money to keep the cash-flow positive and consequently het railway going through the lean winter months.
Rail.co.uk looks at just a few of the railways that offer a great Santa Special season and where better than going ‘Over the Alps’ on the Watercress Line which connects with the national rail network at Alton. It is known as ‘Over The Alps’ because it is the highest railway in southern England reaching 600 feet high at Medstead Four Marks and frequently sees snowy conditions.
The line runs for 10 miles between Alton and Alresford. Mid Hants Santa Specials run from Alresford on a round trip to Medstead and back and between Alton and Ropley and return with all trains taking about an hour.
Santa visits every family in their seats on the one hour steam trip through the Hampshire countryside with white wine and mince pies for the grown-ups and of course a special gift for every child and baby in a souvenir sack.
Wheelchair passengers can be accommodated in the Mid Hants adapted carriage from Alresford, please call Reservations on 01962 733810 to book tickets in this carriage.
There are a couple of other preserved railways running through scenic hilly countryside. The North Yorkshire Moors Railway runs through deep valleys between Pickering and Grosmont in north Yorkshire. Santa Specials run from Pickering to Levisham and back covering around 10 miles taking about 90 minutes.
During the adventure, Santa’s elves will be providing entertainment throughout the train with songs, dancing and lots of fun, and Santa will be walking through the train, handing out an age specific present to each child at their seat.
In the northern Home Counties, the steeply graded Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway runs alongside the 800 foot high Chiltern Hills on a seven mile round trip from Chinnor. This is also a test of crews and the GWR Pannier tank it is using this Christmas. The railway reports that their services are heavily booked this year following very high satisfaction ratings last year from over 3000 festive passengers.
The railway’s Chief Elf Roger – also known as volunteer Chairman Roger Fagg – commented that Santa and Mrs. Claus has already made an early visit to the popular line to check that the steam locomotive is ready for the busy December season.
“He found the engine ready and that bookings are already ahead of this time last year,” Chief Elf Roger commented. “We don’t want to disappoint anyone, but already some of our trains will be fully booked in the run-up to Christmas.
However, there are tickets still available on some dates, in particular over the first weekend of the season on the 6th and 7th December, when Santa has issued explicit instructions that each adult and child should get a £2 discount when they book ahead!”
On the south coast, the Swanage Railway’s 44 Santa specials will run between Swanage and Norden via the scenic Corfe Castle high in the Purbeck Hills as will their Christmas ‘Dorsetman’ dining trains up to and including Christmas Eve.
In the West Midlands, The Severn Valley Railway (SVR) offers an intensive service with TWO Santas working but by using pure magic, only one at a time is ever seen! Steam hauled Santa Specials run from Kidderminster to Arley and Kidderminster to Highley. Kidderminster is just 40 minutes from Birmingham Moore Street by rail on the Worcester line.
The SVR also runs diesel hauled Carol Services and Christmas lunch and evening dining trains with a Murder Mystery Christmas special on December 13. If you fancy your own Christmas Saloon trip, then the SVR can also arrange this using their Shrewsbury Saloon which is attached to regular steam services on a 32 mile round trip between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth. These can accommodate up to 23 people for a cold buffet or 10 passengers with hot food and make for a really unique Christmas event.
The SVR also runs a Festive Season service between Boxing Day and January 4 inclusive between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster.
In the East Midlands, The Great Central Railway (GCR) will be filmed on December 10 as ITV join a Santa Express to see Father Christmas on his special train as presenter Lucy Kite joins him for a steam train ride through the Leicestershire countryside between Leicester and Loughborough.
Kate Tilley, Marketing Manager of the GCR said, "Our Santa Specials are very popular and our passenger figures continue to grow. The event runs for four weeks, is one of our most important activities for the business, and gives us a real boost going into the New Year."
The ITV film crew will interview passengers on trains running on Wednesday 10th of December and the feature, on ITV Central’s ‘Love Local’ is expected to appear on television shortly before Christmas Day. The programme is set to highlight the importance of Christmas to the local economy.
And last but not least, don’t forget that Santa is also rostered to visit over the sea and will be at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway based at Havenstreet.
Trains run to Christmas Eve but as with all the other Santa Specials, MUST be prebooked. Havenstreet hosts a Christmas market and magic shows and the North Pole Santa Shuttle brings more presents on a regular basis for delivery to Santa’s grotto. A Festive Flyer operates after dark on December 20th on the steam railway which includes a three course festive meal.
Across a larger stretch of water is the Railway Preservation Society of Ireland (RPSI) whose base is in Whitehead near Belfast. They have arranged special Santa services until Christmas but you will have to act fast as many of their trains only had a few seats left. The RPSI also operates a main line Mince Pie special on Sunday 28th December between Whitehead - Belfast - Dublin & return
Railways often offer a wrapped present from Santa (which it is why it is important to give children’s ages when booking) while adults are offered festive refreshments on board the 'Santa Specials'.
Don’t forget that most railways also have a great gift shop for those railway themed Christmas presents. And of course, if your wallet can stand it, book a driving course, they are not cheap but the memory lasts for years!