Steam railway faces survival challenge after 77% fall in passengers

A heritage railway has warned it must raise cash to survive after suffering a 77% drop in passenger numbers in 2020.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) carried fewer than 29,000 passengers last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

This compared with 125,000 during the previous 12 months.

The railway – which runs for 14 miles (22.5km) through the Cotswolds – responded to the lost revenue by dipping into its financial reserves and obtaining government funding of up to £318,000.

It also secured a loan partly guaranteed by the Government.

All UK heritage railways have been forced to close due to the virus lockdown.

GWSR finance director Richard Winstanley warned that the latest surge in virus cases means services will not resume until “March or April at the earliest”, adding that “bills still come in even when trains are not running”.

He said: “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 fundraising 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.”