North Norfolk Railway on track for another record year

North Norfolk Railway at Weybourne. Picture: MICK WEBB

North Norfolk Railway at Weybourne. Picture: MICK WEBB - Credit:

First mainline dining excursions in half a century to begin next week.

Hugh Harkett (centre), managing director of North Norfolk Railway, joins Trevor Eady, the line's gen

Hugh Harkett (centre), managing director of North Norfolk Railway, joins Trevor Eady, the line's general manager, and Councillor Tom FitzPatrick, leader of North Norfolk District Council, for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the opening of Sheringham station's new extension. - Credit: Archant

One of the region's most popular visitor attractions is on track for another record year.

North Norfolk Railway (NNR) carried over 166,000 passengers in 2015 - one of its busiest yet.

However, by the end of June this year, it revealed it was already 600 visitors up on the same period last year.

And rail chiefs this week confirmed demand was 'high' for its new dining experience which will next week see the first scheduled steam trains run between the heritage railway and the mainline stations since services were axed half a century ago.

NNR General Manager Trevor Eady said: 'The last three or four years have all been record years so we really didn't expect necessarily for it to happen this year but, at the moment, it (visitor numbers) is good.'

North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb will wave off the first mainline dining excursion on board the North Norfolkman Dining Train, which includes a fully licensed bar, from Sheringham's Poppyline station on Wednesday, August 10, at midday.

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It will cross the road to the Bittern Line where it will be hauled by diesel engine to Cromer and then steam its way back to Holt before returning to Sheringham.

The landmark moment has been years in the planning and rail chiefs have already confirmed if the trial is successful it could be extended with more services potentially on to Norwich and beyond.

A total of eight are planned, the first being invite only and three of the remaining seven having already sold out.

Mr Eady said: 'The North Norfolk Railway has been working with partners for the last two years to bring a new dining experience to its customers. 'The first train is a VIP special which will operate as a dining service with the meal being served along the full journey. The VIP special is only the start as this will be followed later in the afternoon by a further dining train operating the same route for fare paying passengers.

'The idea of running dining trains through to Cromer has been under discussion at the railway for a number of years and there have been many hurdles to negotiate.

'Running on the mainline requires upgrading stock and having locomotives that have been upgraded from the Heritage line requirements including the installation a various equipment which has to be available for mainline operations.

'In addition the operator has to be approved to operate mainline services. To enable the trains to operate West Coast Railways have been contracted to run the trains on the mainline on the Railways behalf.

'The steam locomotive which will be used for these trains is a Standard 4 76084 which is owned by the 76084 Locomotive Co. Ltd and has been overhauled to the mainline standards in readiness for performing other work on the mainline in the future. It will be assisted by a Class 20 Diesel locomotive which has been hired in to assist with the Cromer mainline operation.'

As well as Wednesday's lunchtime and evening dining services, further services will run on Thursday, August 11, and September 7 and 8.

They arrive just days after Sheringham celebrated the opening of its new station extension, with bigger buffet, new toilets and tourist information centre.

And now rail chiefs hope to construct a second building on the opposite platform to complete the restoration project.

Looking forward to the first mainline dining excursion, Hugh Harkett, managing director of the North Norfolk Railway, said: 'This day has been a long time coming so we are extremely pleased to see it come to fruition.

'The ability to run occasional trains to Cromer does give the railway a new premium product which we hope to continue in future years.'