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Severn Valley Railway fears longer-term financial woes despite £400k support

By Rory Smith | Bewdley | Attractions | Published:

Severn Valley Railway fears the longer-term financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the attraction despite a emergency response for donations.

People have helped raised more than £400,000 for Severn Valley Railway

Around £416,000 has been raised to ensure the heritage line between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster can continue to operate on a care and maintenance basis.

Severn Valley Railway has been forced to close and cancel numerous events as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, resulting in a significant loss of income.

The appeal was launched less than a month ago, and initially aimed to raise £250,000.

But the attraction says it faces longer-term uncertainty with fears of lower passenger numbers amid the knock-on impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Severn Valley Railway chairman, Nick Paul, said: "We are deeply grateful to every single person who has come to our aid to take away the immediate threat to the railway’s future.

"We have received thousands of donations from across the region, the country and the world.

"The wonderful messages of support that came with them tell us we’re doing the right thing in working so hard to keep the SVR dream alive.”

Severn Valley Railway is currently closed

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Attraction facing long-term investment woes

Having already seen a 75 per cent drop in passenger numbers due to the floods earlier this year, the railway will remain closed throughout May and June.

As a result, the popular attraction and adjoining Engine House museum, which usually house about 1,700 volunteers, said its fundraising efforts will continue.

With any one year usually producing an annual investment of about £4.5 million to keep the railway going, this has not been possible in the current climate.

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Mr Paul said: “In truth, we are facing a longer-term and more serious threat than we could have envisaged.

Severn Valley Railway has been hit financially by the Covid-19 outbreak

"The devastating loss of income during our peak running season means we will not be able to make this year’s crucial annual investment into the railway.

"This would have been in the region of £4.5million, to fund essential restorations to our infrastructure and rolling stock, along with apprentice training and a desperately needed overhaul of our IT infrastructure which is creaking at the seams.

“Even when we are eventually able to re-open, it’s likely that we will have fewer passengers, with people reluctant to take part in social activities and an anticipated ban on mass gatherings.

"It may be that we won’t see a return to sustainable levels of passenger revenue until well into next year.”

Majority of paid staff furloughed

In light of the ongoing challenge, the three SVR companies SVR Holdings PLC, SVR Company Limited and the SVR Charitable Trust, are jointly appealing for donations to their Fight Back Fund.

This will support the railway’s recovery both during the current crisis and in the tough months that will follow the lifting of restrictions.

Mr Paul added: “We’re calling it the Fight Back Fund, because this is exactly what SVR folk are known for.

"Our pioneering preservationists did it when they brought the line back from ruin in the late 1960s, we managed it following the devastation of the storms in 2007 and with the help of our wonderful supporters now, even in the face of the current crisis, we’ll do it again.”

While all 1,700 volunteers at the railway have been told to stay away, the majority of paid staff have been put on the government's furlough scheme.

Lesley Carr, railway spokeswoman, said: "With the team that are working, there's a real deep sense of determination to get through this and people are working in different ways than ever before, having to think of solutions to problems that have never existed.

"While it's very difficult for those furloughed and volunteers, they have to wait and hope for the best, and we want to reassure them we're getting this sorted and that there will be a railway for them to come back to. Severn Valley Railway will live one. We've got to just keep going and that's what we'll do."

Rory Smith

By Rory Smith
Reporter - @rorysmith_star

Senior reporter based at the Shropshire Star's head office in Ketley, Telford.

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