Severn Valley Railway gears up for weekend reopening
A railway institution is almost back to blowing at full speed, with test journeys going ahead this week before the public are welcomed back from Saturday.
The Severn Valley Railway has not been running since mid-March thanks to the lockdown brought on by coronavirus.
But now that restrictions are easing, the army of volunteers are preparing for the public to return.
This week, dry runs are going ahead with volunteers and their families as passengers being taken up and down the valley – though yesterday the persistent rain meant they weren’t very dry at all.
Journeys took place from the station at Kidderminster up north to Bridgnorth via the Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley, and back again.
They emulated the trips that will be available for the public this weekend.
Throughout August the company’s fleet of steam trains will be making journeys, with diesel trains planned to return to the rails in September.
Tony Bending, 74, was one of those driving from Bridgnorth down into Worcestershire on a practice run and he couldn’t have been more pleased to be back in the locomotive.
He has been a driver for the railway for almost 50 years, having first taken the controls in 1972. He had been a volunteer since 1966.
He will hang up his hat in a few months’ time, but for now he is overjoyed to be driving again.
“It went really well,” he said.
“It’s great to be back.”
Things will not be quite the same for passengers who return, with safety restrictions in stations and on the trains.
At the stations, hand sanitiser points are available and tables are spread out in dining areas. The ground is marked with stickers encouraging social distancing.
Passengers should buy their tickets in advance so the volunteers can manage the numbers, and they will travel in pre-booked compartments which take a maximum of six people.
They should wear masks in shared areas of the train,although they are free to remove them once in their compartments, which they will have exclusive use of for the day.
Severn Valley Railway general manager Helen Smith was on hand to see the departures from Kidderminster, and spoke of her excitement for services to be running again.
"It’s going to be fantastic. It was really emotional seeing them leave the station this morning.
"A lot of concern from the volunteers has been about face coverings.
"The difficult one is making it mandatory. I need to look after the volunteers as well as the passengers.”
The company has produced a guide to the new adaptations for coronavirus that explains some of the changes.
But it says its main aim is to keep the experience of rising on a steam engine as enjoyable and normal an experience as normal.
Pubs at railway stations have been open for a while. Visitors will be allowed into the gift shops, restaurants and pubs in small numbers to ensure social distancing regulations are adhered to and people can pre-order at svrshop.co.uk.
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