VOLUNTEERS at Blaenavon Heritage Railway have launched an appeal to keep it afloat during the coronavirus lockdown.

Like many businesses in the tourism sector, the volunteers at the railway have been left uncertain about whether they will be able to run any trains this summer season, and without the income from visitors from the last three months, the railway is struggling.

“We started the appeal to help us along the way with our bills as we have some fairly sizeable bills regardless if we are running trains,” said Alex Hinshelwood, operations manager at the railway.

“For example, insurance costs alone set us back around £1,000 per month, regardless of activity.

“We had a relatively good turnout on the back of that, so we started turning our minds to how we would run trains again, especially with the two-metre social distancing regulations.

“We have two types of carriage here. We have an open carriage, with groups of tables and four seats, which in normal times is the best for us. The other type is a corridor carriage, which has 12 compartments and they seat about 8 people each.

“We’ve been doing bits to it for a long time now, but now it’s gone right up the priority list.

“A lot of the volunteers have chosen not to come back to the railway at the moment because of Covid, so we haven’t been able to do the work ourselves. We are sending the carriage off to Taunton in Somerset.

“As it stands at the moment, this corridor carriage is key to our plans and that will cost us about £10,000.”

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(The corridor carriage which is being worked on. Picture: Alex Hinshelwood)

Another issue facing the railway is the majority of its volunteers are currently shielding.

Phil Tiley, chairman of the railway, said: “A lot of the volunteers are in the retirement bracket, so a lot of us are shielding and can’t go out until this has cleared up.

“At the moment there’s the uncertainty about whether lockdown will be lifted. We can’t plan to do things.

“We’ve managed to keep our heads above water with our bills with people buying gifts and making donations. We are very grateful for people being so generous.

“In the next week or two we will have a board meeting to discuss whether we can run the Halloween and Christmas events.”

Mr Hinshelwood was also concerned about the impact of the pandemic on the railway’s landmark events.

“We don’t really know how this [coronavirus] will affect us in the long term,” he said. “When we start running trains, we don’t know if people will turn up. If we start running trains at a loss, we will have a problem.

“We generally have 1,500 people a night throughout Halloween. There’s no way we can run that with social distancing, and Halloween gets us through the winter.

“We hope the fundraising will take the pressure off a little bit.

“We are keen to run at least some trains as soon as we get the green light and get everything signed off.

“Hopefully we can look forward to a relatively normal 2021 season.”

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(A train at Blaenavon Heritage Railway. Picture: Alex Hinshelwood)

Even when they do get the green light to open, the railway will not be able to start running trains right away.

“Everybody is desperate to start running trains again, but we will need a bit of a push from the volunteers to get up and running again,” said Mr Hinshelwood. “We never started our running season, as that begins in April and lockdown came in March, so we haven’t done any of our post winter checks yet at the railway.

“We might not be able to run as many days as we might not have as many volunteers, and we still have to run some training as well as staff assessments.”

As of Friday, the railway’s appeal had raised £2,714.

“We’d like to thank people for their contribution,” said Mr Tiley. “It’s gratefully appreciated and its very encouraging that people are so concerned.”

You can donate via gofundme.com/f/supporting-us-through-covid19 – or by visiting bhrailway.co.uk/covid19appeal