Coronavirus: Heritage railways in 'precarious' situation

Carriages on the Ffestiniog railway
Image caption The Ffestiniog Railway has lots of historic carriages which are divided into compartments with their own individual doors

Heritage steam railways are in a "precarious" situation and will be struggling for survival over the summer, one railway manager has said.

Tourist attractions such as steam railways have been closed for months and are now reopening with social distancing and hygiene measures.

Liz McGuiness, general manager at the Llangollen Railway, said the industry was "walking a tightrope".

She said the railway will lose hundreds of thousands of pounds over the summer.

Among the new measures at the Denbighshire attraction, which is opening for the first time since the lockdown on Saturday, is a special hand sanitiser for staff as it is considered dangerous to use alcohol-based products on board a steam locomotive.

In total, £100,000 has been spent making the railway safe to reopen, including buying PPE for volunteers and staff.

Image caption The Ffestiniog Railway has restored a historic steam locomotive called “Welsh Pony” - but lockdown means it has only just come into service in the last two weeks

Ms McGuiness said: "Lockdown has left us in quite a precarious situation.

"We have lost £600,000 over the past few months. We will probably lose another £300,000 to £400,000 over the summer holidays because we're only starting in August and we can't carry the same number of passengers.

"At the moment we're holding our own, but we are walking a tightrope. We are in a very dangerous position if we don't get enough passengers coming to ride on the trains."

In Porthmadog, Gwynedd, the Ffestiniog Railway has been open for the past two weeks, but has also struggled financially in 2020.

It is using its historic carriages because they are divided into compartments, and families can be kept separate from one another.

People have their own individually numbered section of the train, can only start their journey at the main terminus and the carriages are cleaned between trips.

Image caption Paul Lewin said the Ffestiniog railway had lost "millions" during the lockdown

Paul Lewin, manager of the railway, said: "A huge effort went into preparing the trains and talking with the Welsh Government to make sure we could offer a service that is safe.

"The phrase 'three winters' has been coined by the tourist industry and that's absolutely right. We'd been through one winter, we'd invested our money for the 2020 season and then we closed down.

"We've had to get through the last few months with no income.

"We normally sell over £3m of tickets for the trains alone, without catering and shop sales. So we've lost millions of pounds of income, literally.

"Our challenge now is to get through the remaining season, but be able to keep going for the season after that. We've got to get our business through the next winter. Our cash flow will be impacted for many years to come."

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