How railway is bouncing back after lockdown

Stuart Robinson, steam train driver and Ricky Plummer, fireman, on Mid-Norfolk Railway  

Stuart Robinson, steam train driver and Ricky Plummer, fireman, on Mid-Norfolk Railway - Credit: Archant

While work stopped for many during the coronavirus pandemic, behind closed doors the team and volunteers at Mid-Norfolk Railway were beavering away.

After hosting a wedding fayre on March 15, 2020, chairman and owner of the heritage railway, Charlie Robinson, never expected that it would be a further 15 months before another visitor stepped onto the platform again.

The coronavirus pandemic, which closed millions of businesses nationwide and forced the majority of people to live, work, and learn from home, was a "huge blow" for the railway, which relies on money made from train services, volunteers, and donations.

"Even though we were closed to the public, we were still working behind closed doors," said Mr Robinson. "We had some running contracts with Greater Anglia helping them with their rollout of new trains.

A steam train being filled with water at Dereham Station, home of the Mid-Norfolk Railway

A steam train being filled with water at Dereham Station, home of the Mid-Norfolk Railway - Credit: Archant

"While we haven't been open to the public we have still been working behind the scenes to make sure we were ready to reopen when the time came."

Over the course of lockdown, the railway acquired a Pacer Class 142 unit, which has made history by taking to the tracks of an East Anglian railway for the first time.

As well as this, rail lovers spotted some unusual-looking engines on the tracks between Wymondham and Dereham as Rail Head Treatment Trains removed leaves from the tracks as part of an autumn tidy.


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The railway also bought 18 ex-Greater Anglia mark three carriages, formerly used on the Norwich to London route, which are being refurbished to their original table seating for the heritage railway's much-loved polar express.

George Saville, general manager of the Mid-Norfolk Railway

George Saville, general manager of the Mid-Norfolk Railway - Credit: Archant

George Saville, general manager, said: "We had the same big shock that everybody had with the country being closed down but whilst we were shut to the public the railway was still a very active place.

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"Just before Covid we secured our next five-year franchise for doing the polar express through Warner Brothers, but we also wanted to have better carriages to do it in."

The railway announced on April 29 that the polar express would be returning in 2021 after the Covid-19 pandemic caused last year's event to be canceled.

A spokesperson from the railway said that everyone who booked tickets in 2020 had been contacted to ask if they would like to reschedule their date or get a full refund. Any spare tickets will be sold in the near future.

Philip Howard, fireman at the Mid-Norfolk Railway

Philip Howard, fireman at the Mid-Norfolk Railway - Credit: Archant

It is not just the trains that have seen improvements during the lockdown: the railway took advantage of less traffic being on the roads to install a new level crossing.

The work, which took place between May 27 and 31 in 2020 saw a section of Yaxham Road closed, the old and rickety track replaced, and the road surface and light upgraded.

Mr Robinson said: "This was a big job for us. It means that we will not have to worry about replacing this crossing for a good number of years.

Charlie Robinson, chairman of the Mid-Norfolk Railway Trust

Charlie Robinson, chairman of the Mid-Norfolk Railway Trust - Credit: Archant

"It also means that when trains and vehicles run over the rails that there is much less noise and it's smoother.

"We actually had a member of the public who uses a mobility scooter send us a letter thanking us for making his ride smoother."

With the pandemic came the opportunity for government funding to help businesses get back on their feet once lockdown was over.

Mid-Norfolk along with the North Norfolk Railway was given £550,000 to share by the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage and the Heritage Stimulus Fund - funded by the government and administered at arm's length by Historic England and the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Mr Robinson said: "We're still waiting for this money to come actually come into the bank but we have a few plans for what it could possibly be used for."

  • This is part of a two-day series on the Mid-Norfolk Railway. Come back tomorrow to find out more about the railway's plan for reopening and what can be expected in the future.

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