Whilst 2011 was yet another grim year for many UK businesses, the picturesque steam-operated South Devon Railway (SDR) bucked the effects of the economic recession by chalking up its third record breaking season in a row and carried over 112,000 passengers for the first time -- an appropriate finale for the SDR’s 20th anniversary year.
After the last Mince Pie special train ran on New Year’s Eve, the seven-mile line, which is run as a charity, had clocked up its best ever operating results by beating the three highest previous season’s figures that were achieved in 2007, 2009 and 2010.
In December alone, some 10,000 passengers rode on the line’s Santa, Carols and Mince Pie trains, a figure which is now the norm for Winter traffic.
And, when the railway’s managers totalled up the year’s final passenger figures, they showed that 102,021 adults and children, plus another 10,379 children aged under five, rode the line in 2011 bringing the total carried to 112,400. This was an increase of 853 (0.84%) on the previous record set in 2010 of 111,989 (101,168 excluding children under five) and also beat the 2009 figure of 107,895 (99,591 excluding children under five).
Record – 2
Achieving over 100,000 passengers for the fourth time in five years, especially during a severe economic recession, is a major milestone for the largely volunteer run line. Using like for like statistics, the 2011 passenger figure of 102,021 represents an increase of around 1.5% on the first 100,000 plus record season figure set in 2007 of 100,449 visitors.
The impressive figures show that the former Great Western Railway branch line is going from strength to strength as one of Britain’s oldest heritage steam railways having first opened 42 years ago at Easter 1969.
The SDR has painstakingly recreated the ‘Golden Age of Steam’ across the full length of the railway which was first closed to passengers 54 years ago in 1958, just before the infamous ‘Beeching axe’ swung in the 1960s and shut down many much loved rural routes across the South West
The highly scenic railway line, which runs down the glorious valley of the River Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, was sold off by the Dart Valley Railway company to the SDR in 1991 as being ‘uneconomic’, but the SDR, a registered charity, is now proving otherwise with volunteer workers and investing heavily in the fabric of the railway to help keep steam trains alive in the West Country.
The SDR has now chalked up a grand total of 1,768,343 passengers since it took over the line 20 years ago, increasing passenger numbers almost every year.
Passing through some of the West Country’s most delightful and unchanging rural scenery, the SDR prides itself on the quality of its heritage experience and literally transporting visitors back in time to the heyday of the old GWR and British Railways Western Region.
South Devon Railway Trust General Manager Dick Wood, who became the line’s General Manager in November 2008 and also has been a regular volunteer since 1972, said: “Naturally, everyone on the SDR can feel very proud of achieving our best ever results with a record number of passengers carried in 2011. I hope that we can continue to beat the recession in 2012 too by offering our visitors a great day out.
“Our success has been achieved by not only broadening the SDR’s undoubted nostalgic appeal to people of all ages but also by providing better visitor facilities and investing in our future year on year.
“Also, we now promote the railway as a great value-for-money day out for families under the ‘Three Great Attractions, One Amazing Day’ banner alongside our linked attractions at the award winning Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and Buckfast Butterfly & Otter Sanctuary.
“We know that our visitors come back again and again to not only enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of steam in the Devon countryside and to soak up this nostalgic and most relaxing form of transport, but also to see the varied animal attractions at both ends of the line.
“The SDR now operates nearly all year round and trains will run on 259 days in the 2012 season when we will also have a number of great special events. The coming year marks the 140th anniversary of the line being built in May and suitable celebrations are being planned.”
Press Release prepared and issued on behalf of
the South Devon Railway
by Dick Wood tel (01364) 643536, mobile 07711 552947,