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Railway plans refurbishment after ‘lifeline’ £197k government grant

PUBLISHED: 10:00 10 October 2020

Mid-Norfolk Railway manager George Saville with one of the railway's steam engines in Dereham. Picture: Noah Vickers

Mid-Norfolk Railway manager George Saville with one of the railway's steam engines in Dereham. Picture: Noah Vickers

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A Norfolk heritage railway is preparing to make major renovations to its track and rolling stock after receiving a “lifeline” cash-boost from the government’s £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.

When restoration work is complete, the MNR's carriages will be restored to the standard of this compartmentWhen restoration work is complete, the MNR's carriages will be restored to the standard of this compartment

Based in Dereham and stretching south to Wymondham, the Mid Norfolk Railway is one of the longest heritage lines in Britain.

Last week, the railway was informed it would be given a grant of £190,500.

Operations manager George Saville said he was “elated” with the grant.

“I suppose it’s a bit like receiving your exam results,” he said.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway will spend most of the grant restoring the compartments of this carriage to their former gloryThe Mid-Norfolk Railway will spend most of the grant restoring the compartments of this carriage to their former glory

“I’d been keeping my eye on my email inbox, but later discovered it had gone into my spam.”

Even once he had found the email, Mr Saville approached it with some trepidation.

“You’re asking yourself, is it going to be good news or bad?” he said.

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More than half the money will be spent restoring a vintage railway carriage from the 1930s-50s era.

As the carriage is arranged in the old-fashioned compartment style, each household or bubble will be able to travel together, unmasked and in safe isolation from other groups.

“When you look at trains like this,” said Mr Saville, “you realise that even back then people wanted to socially distance!”

The remainder of the fund will be spent on specialist machinery to enable track maintenance while workers keep a safe distance, as well as advertising, consultancy advice and IT equipment for home-working.

When lockdown came in March, it was clear that the railway would have to close to the public for the foreseeable future.

Although social distancing would have been possible in the contemporary, open-plan carriages the railway currently uses, it would have limited passenger numbers to the point of unviability.

“It broke our hearts to have to cancel our annual Polar Express service this Christmas,” said Mr Saville.

In May, the railway’s 25th anniversary passed while most people were still staying indoors as much as possible.

Mr Saville said however that the railway has “events and celebrations planned for next year.”

Provisionally, the railway set to re-open in March 2021.


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