The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway has ended its 2020 season after carrying 29,000 passengers after a year of operational restrictions.
This number of passengers shows a fall in passengers of 77%
Richard Winstanley, the volunteer finance director of GWSR Plc, says: “While that is an encouraging figure given the difficulties we have faced, it compares with 125,000 passengers carried during 2019.
“That’s a precipitous fall of 77 per cent.
“It’s a truly sobering statistic that starkly underlines the effect of the pandemic: not just on us, but on the leisure industry as a whole. Yet despite the restrictions of running a Covid-compliant service, we have managed to more than cover the cost of running trains.
“However,” he warns, pointing out that bills still come in even when trains are not running, “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, as well as seek Government support”.
GWSR’s 2020 season started on th 7th March 2020 with high hopes of increasing passenger numbers through a new enhanced timetable, but the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to that on the 15th March 2020 when it was forced to close for five months.
After the restrictions eased, the first trains ran on the 15th August. However, it wasn’t the same, as Richard Winstanley explains: “It was a service that strictly managed the number of passengers with a range of measures to ensure Covid-19 compliance, including requiring advanced online bookings. It offered only a round trip of the whole line, using our corridor compartment coaches, starting and finishing at Toddington, so all the other stations were closed.
“The service proved extremely popular. A fully-booked train could range between 84 and 228 passengers, depending on whether compartments were occupied by just two or up to six people. In practice, the average train occupancy has been around 150.”
Once again, the trains came to a halt for the second lockdown, but this was lifted in time for the Santa Experience services. However, with social distancing in place, the railway could only carry less than half of the 11,000 passengers who travelled at Christmas in 2019.
Richard Winstanley says: “Fortunately, the Santa Experience generated a valuable contribution to the railway’s funds. But, in order to survive, from a financial perspective, the railway had to arrange further funding both to meet current obligations and to provide a secure financial base for the future, as well as use some of the company’s financial reserves.
“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 Central Government but administered by our bankers.”
Richard also praised the dedication of volunteers who “went above and beyond” to ensure that the railway’s services and ‘Santa Experience’ ran successfully. The GWSR has over 950 volunteers and just seven employees.
For the third time though, the railway is now closed, and the new restrictions meant the Mince Pie trains were cancelled and the unused refreshments have been donated to the Tewkesbury food banks.
Richard points out: “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.
“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.
“Nevertheless, we’re looking forward to welcoming our travellers back and are planning for an eventual full resumption of services, when the time is right.”
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