The Swanage Railway has launched an urgent appeal for donations to help the award-winning heritage line – which contributes more than £15 million to the Isle of Purbeck economy every year – in the wake of the economic effects of the Coronavirus.
The new ‘Save Our Service’ (S.O.S.) appeal aims to plug the financial hole of the popular heritage railway not running trains until further notice after the Swanage Railway ceased running trains in mid-March.
Swanage Railway Trust chairman Gavin Johns said: “The Swanage Railway is facing the most urgent and potentially devastating challenge in its history, due to extraordinary and terrible circumstances beyond its control.
“With the Swanage Railway closed, on Government advice, it has no income for the duration of the current emergency.
“My appeal to people is that the Swanage Railway took 40 years to rebuild so please help us to ensure that it is not put out of business by the Coronavirus.
“It is no exaggeration to say that the Swanage Railway, which contributes more than £15 million to the Purbeck economy every year, is fighting for its very existence.
“That is why we have launched this ‘Save Our Service’ (S.O.S.) Coronavirus appeal for donations because we urgently need the help of our members, supporters, passengers and the general public.
“We are working very hard to try and ensure that the Swanage Railway is not in financial jeopardy through no fault of its own,” added Mr Johns, a volunteer signalman on the popular heritage railway which carries more than 200,000 passengers a year.
The re-opening of the Swanage Railway will be dependent on the progress of the virus as well as advice from the Government and its public health experts.
Liz Sellen, chairman of the Swanage Railway Company – which runs the trains and other commercial operations such as retail and catering – said: "“Please help now and support the Swanage Railway by giving generously to ensure that our beloved heritage line survives these very challenging and difficult times.
“The result of the Railway’s closure, due to the threat of Coronavirus, means that there will be no income for the foreseeable future. While no trains are running, the line is being maintained and regular security patrols are taking place.
“We are constantly monitoring the advice and guidance given by the Government and its public health experts. The safety and well-being of our paid staff, volunteers and passengers is always of the utmost importance.
“Without income over the coming months, the Swanage Railway – which has been built up through the sweat, blood and tears of several generations over 40 years – cannot survive.
“Our insurance policy does not cover loss of earnings due to a pandemic and if we qualify for Government loans, they have to be repaid which would put yet another strain on our fragile finances.
“During the period that the Swanage Railway is shut down, essential staff will be maintaining, repairing and keeping the heritage line secure – while maintaining common sense precautions and social distancing as per Government advice – until train operations can safely be resumed.
“While the Railway will endeavour to take advantage of the Government's financial assistance during the period of the Coronavirus crisis, that help will not cover all the financial loss of no income for what could be an indefinite period.
“The majority of our paid staff are being asked to make a personal sacrifice for the Railway by taking a furlough which takes them out of work but allows the Government to pay 80 per cent of their salary,” added the Swanage Railway Company chairman, a dedicated volunteer on the heritage railway for 30 years.
After considering Government health advice, the Swanage Railway ran its last public trains on the weekend of 14 and 15 March, 2020, with its popular shop and café at Swanage station closing at the end of business on Thursday, 19 March, 2020.
To make a donation to the ‘Save Our Service’ (S.O.S.) appeal, visit www.saveourservice.co.uk.
Funds raised from this appeal will be applied by the Trust to support the Company. If this is not possible or there is a surplus these funds will be used by the Trust to continue with its charitable objectives.
Photograph: George Moon
Story by Andrew P.M. Wright,
Swanage Railway official photographer and press officer.
An earlier version of this news item appeared on 27th March 2020.