The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWSR) is inviting visitors to enjoy a steam-hauled journey through the winter Cotswolds wonderland between December 27 and January 3, 2021.
GWSR’s covid-compliant Santa Experience trains tickets sold out within days of being made available, but there is still plenty of opportunity to experience the railway this festive season.
The GWSR is running a daily service of two full round trips of the popular heritage line from Toddington station GL54 5DT. The 28-mile journey runs first to Cheltenham Racecourse, then back via Toddington to Broadway and return to Toddington.
Tickets are now available online from the virtual booking office. Tickets will be available on the day at Toddington station subject to availability. However, GWSR recommends – because of the reduced socially-distanced capacity trains filling quickly – it is best to book before travelling.
The locomotive chosen to haul these post-Christmas specials is the railway’s biggest and most powerful. It is a Southern Railway ‘Merchant Navy’ class No. 35006 Peninsular & Oriental SN Co.
The locomotive is one of 30 built in the 1940s to handle the heaviest expresses from London Waterloo to the South and South-West, such as the ‘Bournemouth Belle’ and ‘Atlantic Coast Express’.
The engine was bought from a South Wales scrapyard in the 1980s and, over following years, was meticulously overhauled at Toddington, moving under its own power for the first time in over 50 years in 2015.
Chairman of GWSR Plc, Richard Johnson, said: “This is a great way to wrap up what has been a very difficult year for us and indeed for the heritage railway movement as a whole.
“With two lockdowns, we were unable to operate for six months including what should have been our busiest weeks. I am full of praise for all our volunteers for the work they have put in to ensure that we could resume services, which have proved to be extremely popular.
“To ensure the safety of our visitors and volunteers, the trains we are operating, including our wonderful ‘Santa Experience’ service, are carrying half their usual capacity. But the important thing is, we are operating and bringing a lot of joy to families over the Christmas period.”
With the arrival and rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine, Richard Johnson hopes that we may have turned the corner and can look forward to developing the railway’s offer during 2021.
“The railway closes for essential maintenance during January and February although we are planning a limited diesel railcar service during the February school half-term. And, although I hope that restrictions will have eased, I suspect that we will need to start our 2021 season in March with COVID-19 restrictions still in place.
“But, as a volunteer-run organisation, you may be sure that whatever train service we are able to offer next year, everyone will receive the warmest of welcomes,” adds Richard Johnson.
Post-Christmas trains operate daily December 27 to January 3 inclusive, however only round trips from Toddington station.
Departures are 10.00 and 13.20, the round trip taking approximately 2hrs 25minutes with plenty of time at Cheltenham and Broadway to take pictures of the locomotive detaching from its train and re-attaching at the other end for the return journey.
Refreshments available, in the ‘Flag & Whistle’ tearooms at Toddington and from the buffet car when the train is stationary at Cheltenham Racecourse and Broadway stations. The café at Broadway station is also open.