Santa’s annual appearance at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has become the latest activity to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
The popular event, which brings families together to travel with the big man on the railway’s festive steam trains, and which was due to start on December 5 and run over three weekends, has been cancelled for 2020.
The railway had its plans for the Santa Specials well advanced, and had carefully designed what was hoped to be both a safe and fun event, but the pandemic made it too difficult to put on.
The Llanfair Line’s volunteers are usually drawn from all over Powys and the rest of the UK, and many of Santa’s fans travel from the West Midlands to see him.
The volunteers could not be sure they would be able to come to work on the event, while visitors from England are not able to cross the border except for work and other limited reasons.
“After a very successful, socially-distanced late summer and autumn season of steam trains, we had high hopes for Santa’s visit,” said railway general manager Charles Spencer. “But, as English lockdown followed Welsh firebreak, and with the possibility of more restrictions leading up to Christmas, it was clear that the only practical option was to cancel.”
Member Robert Robinson, who was in charge of planning for the festive trains, added that all the members of the Santa team had worked really hard to adapt the line’s usual event to assure everyone’s safety in these unusual circumstances. “We are very grateful for all their efforts – they are as disappointed as the children will be,” he said.
The Llanfair Line will now turn to making preparations for its 2021 operating season, which will include regular steam trains and special events to welcome both locals and visitors.
The railway has made it through this very difficult year with the generous support of its members, vital financial help from Powys County Council, the Welsh Government and the Heritage Lottery fund, and a "frankly overwhelming" response to two major fundraising appeals.
More than £150,000 was raised both compensating for some of the revenue lost in 2020 and ensuring that a major overhaul of original locomotive ‘The Earl’ could proceed to its completion.
The railway will be spending the winter months ensuring it will be ready to run its 120-year old trains in 2021. With extensive Covid-safety precautions in place for its staff, over the winter there will be new volunteering opportunities – anyone interested in joining in can contact Robert Robinson at email@example.com.
One Christmas activity that is setting records at the railway despite the Santa cancellation is the mail-order sale of its Christmas cards. Three variations, all featuring the work of noted rail artist Jonathan Clay, are available through the Llanfair Line’s website at wllr.org.uk, and are selling fast.