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North Norfolk Railway celebrates record year for passenger numbers

PUBLISHED: 19:44 08 January 2014 | UPDATED: 19:44 08 January 2014

North Norfolk Railway Steam Gala 2013. The Oliver Cromwell at Sheringham Station. 

North Norfolk Railway Steam Gala 2013. The Oliver Cromwell at Sheringham Station. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2013

A north Norfolk visitor attraction has cocked a snook at the economic climate and recorded its best-ever visitor numbers.

The North Norfolk Railway carried a record 157,800 passengers in 2013, a rise of six percent over 2012 and an all-time record for the Sheringham to Holt line which opened as a heritage railway in 1974. The previous record was 150,497 in 2011.

Trevor Eady, general manager of the railway, also known as the Poppy Line, said: “Our volunteers and staff have produced an outstanding result, especially given the year’s constraints on disposable income and a weather-hit spring gala at the start of the season.

“Key factors in the performance were an excellent August, and record traffic levels at the Day Out With Thomas in May, the summer steam gala, and the September ’40s Weekend.”

The news was “fantastic,” added Mr Eady and he praised the commitment of the railway’s 400 volunteers.

He attributed the railway’s success to an emphasis on customer service and the constant addition of new events.

This year’s will include a first visit by the crowd-pulling LNER Class A4 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley locomotive to the March steam gala, and a 1960s-themed commemoration in April of the end of the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway.

“We work hard to make sure people want to keep coming back,” said Mr Eady. “A lot of visitors to Norfolk plan their summer breaks around our events.”

The height of summer could see 350 people travelling behind any one of the railway’s four resident locos or visiting engines.

Annual events, such as the July beer festival, were becoming increasingly popular with an average of 12,000 pints of beer sold. The 1940s weekend was also growing and now involved the whole of Sheringham with shops and residents entering into the spirit of the event.

Last year saw the return of the popular Thomas the Tank Engine weekend after a gap of three years and Mr Eady said the children’s favourite would be back from May 3-5.

A Dad’s Army event at Weybourne Station, held for the first time last year, would also be back over the bank holiday weekend at the end of May, featuring re-enactors in the roles of favourite characters from the much-loved TV series.

An improved timetable, with trains running every 45 minutes from Easter to November, had also helped boost the railway’s popularity and Mr Eady said its dining trains, offering passengers the chance to eat a meal on board a steam-hauled train, were so popular that they were now being extended to offer mid-week dates.

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