Preserved railway tourism by Phil Marsh

One million pounds awarded to tourist railways across the UK after Dragons Den type competition

Published: 20th June 2016

Recognition of the value of the UK's preserved railways and volunteers

The Department for Transport and Department for Culture Media and Sport (DfT) announced some time ago that they recognised the value of the UK heritage railways to the tourist industry by announcing a million pound competition. The cash prizes were designed to boost rail-related tourism across Britain and ranged between £25,000 to £75,000.

The organisers said that a major objective of the competition was to encourage more visitors to the UK to travel to destinations beyond the London and around 10 million people a year visit a heritage railway contributing an estimated £250 million to the UK economy. Community rail lines account for around 40 million journeys per year. They are often rural-based and many support the tourism industry of these areas.

Using heritage lines to boost tourism

Many railways submitted innovative plans to the DfT all designed to boost rail-related tourism and the local economy by creating new trading opportunities which until now have perhaps been hidden from publicly accessible mainstream tourist areas. Once shortlisted, railways had to make a ‘Dragons Den’ type pitch to the judging panel.

The first named prizewinner was the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway to help fund the extension of their line into Princes Risborough station and to construct a new platform and loop for their services. This award will take the small railway into the medium size group of railways when trains commence next year providing a cross-platform interchange at Princes Risborough with Chiltern Railways’ services between London, Oxford, Aylesbury and Birmingham.

At the other end of the scale, perhaps the largest preserved railway, The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) was awarded £75,000 to expand their Pullman operation on the line between Pickering and Whitby to enable wheelchair users to travel.

They said: Rail Minister Claire Perry said:

“We want to show the best of British to our visitors, and heritage and community railways are part of that package. Thanks to this competition, 17 railway organisations right across Britain will be able to invest in promoting and boosting what they have to offer to visitors”.

The competition offers grants to rail operators for innovative ideas and trials and is aimed particularly at heritage railways and community rail partnerships. It hopes to encourage more tourists and make it easier to explore the UK by rail.

Tourism and Heritage Minister David Evennett said:

We want more tourists to experience the hidden gems the whole of the UK has to offer. Heritage and community railways are important local attractions, and these projects will help support our railway history and promote it to visitors from home and abroad.

Deirdre Wells OBE, the Chief Executive of UK Inbound, said:

Heritage and community rail plays a vital role in our vibrant and often quirky tourism industry. We want to do all we can to encourage more of the 36 million annual inbound visitors to the UK to explore more of our beautiful country by rail. Judges for the competition included Mark Garnier, MP, Lord Faulkner; Deirdre Wells OBE and Sir William McAlpine.

UK-wide winners

Winners were grouped in geographical areas with one national winner, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships who will create a website detailing Britain’s most scenic train journeys designed to introduce British and overseas visitors to the best of Britain’s community rail lines.

The East Midlands winner was the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway who will use their prize of £74,500 to convert an existing shed into an innovative visitor centre allowing visitors to see work being undertaken on the heritage fleet. Someof the funding will also go towards track and signal enhancements enabling more trains to operate into the Derbyshire Dales at Wirksworth, their northern terminus.

The Southeast award went to the Bluebell Railway and as with the NYMR, making a Pullman carriage accessible for people with disabilities and to achieve this, a vintage Pullman carriage will be completely renovated restoring the carriage’s original 1920’s ambience while also increasing the railway’s Pullman dining seating capacity.

The Swanage Railway Trust was awarded £75,000 to help extend their services to Wareham and will help pay for the digital equipment needed on today’s national network. One steam service will use five carriages and carry up to 300 passengers connecting off the southwest main line running between London and Weymouth.

The top league Severn Valley Railway, via its Charitable Trust, will transform its disabled facilities with its £75,000 award enabling wheelchair users to travel on all services and to access all the railway’s attractions and also to experience authentic heritage dining in a uniquely-designed 1950s carriage.

In Scotland, the Brechin based Caledonian Railway and the University of the West of Scotland were awarded £30,000 to explore how the railway can extend the railway’s active season, enhance community involvement, improve cultural awareness and increase the number of visitors.

Narrow gauge generates large tourism industry

The narrow gauge trains in Wales are and have been for half a century a great tourist attraction and were awarded £67,000 to boost visitor numbers using the main line railways to connect with them. The money will be used to generate a promotional package including a modern equivalent of the Bradshaw’s guide, to attract more visitors, both UK-based and overseas tourists in London.

The Rheilffordd Cwm Gwendraeth/Gwendraeth Valley Rail prize money will be used to develop a community rail corridor and velorail development using a unique ‘velorail’ rail bike visitor attraction on a disused Network Rail branch and rail-side land starting in Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire.

The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway (W&LLR) Preservation Co Ltd will use their prize of £42,500 to improve disabled access to their narrow-gauge trains, including platform lifts and carriage modifications.

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