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Friday, June 25, 2021

Severn Valley Railway looks to an August reopening

The Severn Valley Railway is gearing up to reopen to the public during August. The leading heritage line, which runs from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth, closed its doors in mid-March as the coronavirus pandemic escalated and lockdown began across the UK.

Shed master Martin White with LMS Ivatt Class 4 No 43106, one of the mothballed locomotives. Photo: Lesley Carr
Shed master Martin White with LMS Ivatt Class 4 No 43106, one of the mothballed locomotives. Photo: Lesley Carr

Over the next few weeks, the railway will gradually bring back its 1,800 volunteers, along with paid staff, 95% of whom are currently on furlough. It faces a huge challenge to prepare for reopening as general manager Helen Smith explained:

“Effectively we had to mothball the railway three months ago, and our heritage rolling stock has been standing around getting rusty and dusty since then.  We’ve got to get our locomotives and carriages back into top condition by overhauling and checking everything. Our stations and garden areas need some TLC too, and we’ll be checking every single inch of the track and lineside to make sure we’re ready to roll when the time comes.

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There’s still a great deal of uncertainty around how passenger services will be managed once the railway has reopened and Helen added:

“We’re working closely with the Heritage Railway Association to make sure we get it right when it comes to safety for both visitors and our volunteers and staff. We have to wait and see whether the Government will reduce its social distancing advice to one metre from the current two metres. Such a change would make it easier to run services and allow us to make a profit rather than a loss.

“Although it’s going to be compulsory to wear face coverings on public transport, we don’t believe this will apply to us as a heritage attraction, provided we can maintain the recommended social distancing guidelines.

It’s likely that services will run on a reduced timetable when the railway reopens, and it will be encouraging visitors to pre-book their tickets. Although booking for specific dates is not yet available, there’ll be updates on social media and at svr.co.uk.

Before the line itself is back in action, the SVR will reopen its pubs next month.  The King and Castle at Kidderminster station, and the Railwayman’s Arms at Bridgnorth will be serving customers once again from 4th July.

The SVR could lose up to £6 million income this year, as a result of months of closure and lower passenger numbers because of social distancing requirements.  An emergency appeal has received more than £745,000. The SVR has also applied for a bank loan under the CBILS scheme, and to the National Lottery for emergency grant aid.

To support the SVR’s Fight Back Fund, please visit www.svrtrust.org.uk

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