Shropshire Star

Severn Valley Railway announces voluntary redundancies as visitor numbers fall and bills soar

Severn Valley Railway, one of the region's most popular visitor attractions, has announced voluntary redundancies amid rapid rising costs and a drop in visitor numbers.

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The SVR's flagship loco 4930 'Hagley Hall' which re-entered service last year after a major overhaul. Photo: Kevin Whitehurst

The award-winning heritage railway said a significant drop in visitor numbers – and increasing energy costs – has prompted 'proactive action' to 'protect its business'.

Railway leaders are now considering a raft of cost-cutting measures, including changes to staff working patterns, a recruitment freeze and voluntary redundancies.

The railway says it hasn’t ruled out compulsory redundancies, but is working hard to avoid these.

Mike Ball, chairman of SVR (Holdings) Plc said: “When we planned our programme and budgets for 2022, it was on the basis that we would see a gradual return to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic levels of activity as the year progressed.

"This did not happen, and the economic outlook suggests that 2023 may well be worse than 2022.

“What we believed were temporary changes are going to be longer term ones, and we must adapt in order to survive now and thrive in the future.”

Tourist attractions across the UK continue to be impacted by up to 30 per cent drops in visitor numbers since Covid and this has been made worse by the ongoing cost of living crisis.

The cost of utilities is one of the biggest expenses that the railway currently faces and managers have confirmed they are clamping down on wastage across 16 miles of the SVR's line.

They have asked volunteers to 'consolidate their working patterns', so that premises only need heating and lighting for minimal times, as well as encouraging work to be put off where possible until the spring and summer, to save on costs.

The Severn Valley Railway is currently in its annual maintenance shut down period – and will reopen on Saturday, March 4.

Upon its reopening, operations will be concentrated into four days a week, using a mix of steam and heritage diesel-hauled services.

The railway is planning a mixture of hop-on hop-off services along with curated excursion-style trips.

Railways leaders have said they remain committed to providing an 'excellent heritage railway experience' for visitors – and alongside regular passenger services – they will continue to host a wide range of events throughout the year.

Plans are underway for the usual four steam and diesel galas in the spring and autumn, and the railway's popular Step Back to the 1940s weekend will return in the summer.

“The SVR has been running as a preserved railway since 1970, and it has an inspirational and glorious history," Mr Ball added.

"We’re determined to do everything we can now to protect it for future generations to enjoy. The year ahead is going to be critical to achieving that aim.”

Helen Smith, the SVR’s managing director added: “We are facing the double problem of a significant drop in passenger revenue and secondary spend alongside escalating costs across all areas of the business.

"The current situation in Ukraine means the cost of utilities to heat and light our premises has rocketed, along with the cost of coal and diesel to power our locomotives.

“We want to make these important changes, in the coming year and beyond, to ensure our award-winning attraction continues to offer an excellent value-for-money experience for visitors.

“The resourcefulness and dedication of the SVR’s staff, both paid and volunteer, is truly marvellous.

"They are literally the life-blood of what makes this railway tick, and we’re working actively with everyone to achieve our objectives this year.

"We’re also grateful to our wonderful visitors who choose us to spend their time with. We want to make sure they have a heritage experience to cherish in 2023.”