Heritage railways reopen for business

(L-R) Didcot Town Mayor Eleanor Hards and husband Nick, Didcot Railway Centre CEO Emma Jhita, David Johnston MP, DRC founding member John Barlow, DRC chairman Richard Preston and Didcot Deputy Mayor Mocky Khan with family at the reopening of Didcot Railway Centre, 4 July 2020.

As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown slowly eases, the UK’s heritage railways are starting to come out of hibernation and are opening again for enthusiasts and tourists.

To help them do this safely, the Heritage Railway Association (HRA) has published a complete set of guidance for its members on the right way to re-open and resume heritage rail operations.

Carriages were thoroughly cleaned and plastic screens installed between seats before the Dartmouth Steam Railway reopened.

Comprehensive and definitive, the guidance has been compiled by a working group of some of the UK’s most experienced heritage rail managers. In addition to drafting guidance, the group collated background information, legislation and government advice, information and advice from other sectors in leisure and tourism,  and also consulted with rail regulator, the Office of Rail and Road (ORR).

Facemasks were much in evidence as the Crich Tramway Village.

Staff, equipment and rolling stock that have remained at a standstill for, in some cases, more than three months cannot be instantly reactivated. The checklist of tasks relating to safety, health, cashflow and the visitor experience is lengthy, complex and daunting.

The HRA Guidance is intended to assist individual heritage railways prepare their own tailored recovery programme, underpinned by effective plans and procedures. For those railways still formulating a re-opening plan, the guidance provides ideas, suggestions and practical guidance on every aspect of emerging from lockdown. It covers topics from engineering to the visitor experience, and everything in-between. It provides sample recovery plans, risk assessments, documents, processes and procedures.

Steve Oates, HRA’s chief executive officer, said: ‘For railways who are well-advanced in their re-opening plans, the guidance should provide a useful checklist. For those just starting on their plans, it should enable them to develop a safely deliverable, financially viable re-opening.

“The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been, and continues to be, devastating on heritage rail and indeed the tourism and heritage sectors.

Steve Oates,
Heritage Railway Association.

“Throughout the whole economy, measures have had to be introduced and enacted that have never previously been developed or even contemplated.

“In very many respects, government directives, rules, guidance and regulations have been created and implemented within very short timescales and have been designed to cover a very wide range of businesses and circumstances. As such, they have been subject to considerable and often ongoing review, amendment, update and clarification.

“Our guidance has been prepared with input from a working group of experienced heritage rail personnel. It’s guidance by heritage railway people, for heritage railway people.”

A number of heritage railways have taken this advice and have reopened for business. Some reported a decent amount of interest from the public as they reopened, others that the first few days were very quiet. It may take time for word to get around that these attractions are now back up and running.

The HSA has released a list of railways and their opening dates:

Sample of Heritage Railways in England Reopening in July and August:

Lines that haven’t published a reopening date:

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