On Saturday 29th August 2020, Blaenavon once again echoed to the sound of steam as our railway reopened following the extended closure forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
At eleven o’clock sharp, the first public train in eight months left Furnace Sidings, beginning a fifty-minute round trip through the stunning Welsh landscape. Over the following three days we went on to welcome 90 families/extended bubbles from near and far, with many other passers-by stopping to watch and wave at trains.
The reopening marked a triumphant moment for our team. In early March 2020, we were busy preparing to reopen to the public following the annual winter closure. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating, we took the decision to postpone the start of this year’s running season. This was before the introduction of lockdown restrictions, and when these came into effect in late March we were forced to close for the foreseeable future.
Over the following months, there were very real fears about how much longer the railway could afford to remain closed. Heritage railways aren’t cheap to run, and we have many background costs to pay regardless of whether we are running trains or not.
Thankfully, we had the very generous support of the public on our side. Through our COVID-19 Appeal, they raised nearly £3,500 to help the railway survive, and this was later supplemented by a £10,000 business recovery grant from the Welsh Government.
As restrictions began to be eased our volunteers started preparation work to reopen the railway once again. After countless hours of work both behind the scenes and on the ground, we were finally ready to reopen at the end of August 2020.
As a testament to our volunteer’s hard work, we achieved the ‘Good to Go’/‘Barod Amdani’ mark from Visit Britain/Visit Wales for our new social distancing and hygiene provisions. After a weekend of crew refresher runs on the 22nd/23rd August, we were finally ready to reopen on the following Saturday.
Tickets for the first day sold out quickly. To mark the occasion, we were fortunate enough to be joined by Lynne Neagle, Welsh Senedd Member for Torfaen. After inspecting our new social distancing and hygiene arrangements, Ms. Neagle congratulated our volunteers for their hard work and determination to get the railway running again, wishing us the very best of success for the future.
After one of the most challenging periods in our railway’s history, we are now open once again. We’ll be running steam services on Saturdays throughout the rest of September, with all trains scheduled to be hauled by 106-year-old ‘Rosyth No.1’. You can find out more by visiting https://www.bhrailway.co.uk/booktickets.
Thank you for all your support over the last few months, and welcome back to Blaenavon!