Mid Norfolk Railway enters the ‘premier league’ after winning Heritage Railway of the Year

The Mid Norfolk Railway has been announced as the winner of the prestigious national Heritage Railwa

The Mid Norfolk Railway has been announced as the winner of the prestigious national Heritage Railway of the Year Award 2013. With the award is Barry Woodgett. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

The Mid Norfolk Railway has won a national accolade which puts it in the 'premier league' of heritage train lines – and could help unlock its potential as a major tourism asset for Dereham.

The line was announced as the winner of the prestigious Heritage Railway of the Year Award 2013 during a London ceremony earlier this month.

The award recognised the ongoing developments during an exciting year for the volunteer-run railway, which operates between Dereham and Wymondham.

It began with the visit of a High Speed Train from London St Pancras to Dereham and Hoe, which marked the reopening of the first section of renovated line towards North Elmham and County School stations – making the MNR one of the longest heritage railways in the UK.

Other special events during 2013 included the Summer Steam Gala, which brought hundreds of passengers, photographers and enthusiasts to the platforms.

The August event was the railway's biggest-ever gala, helping to raise money towards a long-term vision of building a £90,000 maintenance shed, putting up a salvaged footbridge to link its two main platforms and developing a visitor centre at Dereham station.

Tourism bosses hope the award will raise the MNR's national profile, adding weight to future funding applications and boosting the local economy by enticing more railway fans to visit Mid Norfolk, spending their money in Dereham's shops, B&Bs and pubs.

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MNR chairman Barry Woodgett also hopes the award could act as a catalyst for the line's future development as a tourist asset for the area.

He said: 'It is a reflection of the dedication and hard work of the Mid Norfolk railway's volunteers that we have collected this award, which is not just for one item but a culmination, moving the railway forward to reach this stage.

'It will further establish the Mid Norfolk Railway as a valuable attraction in the area as the railway continues to move forward and develop its reputation as a heritage railway.'

Rod Gilchrist, external funding director for the MNR, said: 'This award raises the MNR to the premier league of heritage railways. It puts Norfolk and Dereham firmly on the map for people looking for short breaks or holidays, it will bring people into the B&Bs and the hotels who would not normally think of coming to Mid Norfolk.

'It is a great celebration for Dereham and for Norfolk. People will know we exist now, where perhaps they didn't before. And it gives us a quality mark which we can use when we apply for external funding going forward.'

The MNR's award plaque will be formally unveiled at the station in the New Year, and Mr Woodgett said he hopes to invite civic leaders for a celebratory train ride to highlight the economic potential of the line as a tourist attraction.

Pete Waters, brand manager for Visit Norfolk, said: 'The middle of our county doesn't normally take the tourism headlines, so this is great recognition for two vibrant market towns in what is a beautiful part of Norfolk. Importantly, the Mid Norfolk Railway, and the county's three other heritage lines, are open year-round and it's with attractions like these that we can help promote Norfolk as a place that has great visitor experiences throughout the year, not just in the summer.'