GWR Volunteers Celebrate Best Year Ever
Golden year for Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway as records tumble
- 100,000 passengers carried for first time
- ‘Broadway: The last mile’ share offer nears £1 million
- Railway’s turnover exceeds £1.7m for the first time
As the last train of the 2016 season pulled away from Cheltenham Racecourse station on 2nd January it was carrying travellers who had taken the railway’s passenger numbers over the 100,000 barrier for the first time.
Over the year the railway carried just over 100,000 passengers over its scenic 12-mile route through the Cotswolds - a 13% increase over the 88,500 carried during the 2015 season, itself a record.
A delighted Colin Fewell, the railway’s volunteer commercial director, said: “This is a fantastic achievement for our volunteer-run railway and throughout the year, the records have tumbled.
“Almost all of our special events attracted more visitors than before and especially the Santa Specials which this year, carried over 10,000 people travelling to meet Father Christmas.
“It’s great news for the local economy, too.
“People who visit our railway also visit local shops and other attractions in the Cotswolds; they stay at local hotels and b and b’s; they visit pubs and restaurants as part of their days out.
“But for the railway, it means that we can invest more in developing our railway to be even better in the future.”
Colin Fewell believes that the railway’s family appeal and range of events with families in mind has been a key to the railway’s runaway success.
“We’re not just for enthusiasts although of course we do have huge appeal for anyone with an interest in railways.
“Events such as Days our with Thomas, War in the Cotswolds, Real Ale weekends, classic car and bus days and our first Food and Drink Fayre, attract people who might not otherwise have come - and many re-visit because they enjoyed their day.
“This year we have another brand new event: ‘Bricks and Trains’ in conjunction with the Southern Lego Train Club - a fascinating exploration with huge appeal for youngsters and adults!’
The ‘last mile’ to Broadway
The railway is also raising funds to complete its extension to Broadway which is planned to open to the public in the spring of 2018.
The share offer has now raised over £955,000 of the £1.25 million to complete the task, including laying track, completing the new station at Broadway, on the site of the original which closed in 1960 as well as remaining civil engineering works.
Work on construction of the new station is progressing well with the main building now up to eaves height. Steel rail, purchased from British Steel at Scunthorpe, has enable track-laying to cross the border into Worcestershire - and is now less than three-quarters of a mile short of the station.
Chris Bristow, the railway’s finance director, says: “Our budget was to raise £900,000 by the end of 2016 and we have sailed past that figure. It’s fantastic news coming, as it does, on top of our record operating season.
“But we must raise the remaining funds before the share offer closes at the end of April.
“Now would be a very good time to invest if you’ve been thinking about doing so - and a good way to use your Christmas money if that’s what you were given!
“Not only do you have a say in the operation of the railway but gain valuable travel benefits too.
“But above all, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have contributed towards the success of perhaps Britain’s best-loved heritage railway.”
And a new station
Once there was a small station halt at Hailes Abbey - spelled ‘Hayles Abbey’ on the Great Western Railway’s original station name board. It had a short platform and a corrugated iron waiting shelter and served tourists visiting the nearby historic 13th-century Cistercian Abbey ruins (owned by National Trust and maintained by English Heritage).
There was little remaining to show that there was ever a halt there but volunteers have now rebuilt the platform to an appearance very similar to the original and it will be complete with a small iron waiting shelter.
It’s hoped that the Halt, which will operate as a ‘request stop’ will open during the 2017 season.
The 2016 season - some facts and figures
The railway exceeded 100,000 passengers for the first time and its annual turnover exceeded £1.7 million.
- 13% increase in passengers, up from 88,500 last year
- Railway ran on 187 days, 9% more than last year
- Average of 534 travellers per day, the total number of visitors will be considerably higher taking into account those who visit but not travel
- Santa Specials carried 10,663 visitors up 12% from 9,476 last year
- Group bookings were also up with 527 organised party visits compared with 474 the previous year. 163 parties have already booked for 2017
- Special race trains carried record numbers once again and will be a feature once again in 2017, with trains increased to eight carriages
- The new Platform 2 at Cheltenham Racecourse was surfaced and will be brought into operation for special events in 2017
- Winchcombe Platform 1 was extended to handle longer trains
- On the Broadway extension, track has now crossed the border into Worcestershire
- The railway’s steam locomotive department is building new steel trusses to the Great Western Railway’s design for Broadway Station roof