The East Lancashire Railway (ELR) will welcome its first visitors since the start of lockdown this weekend as it opens its bars to the public once more.
The cherished heritage attraction has faced an uncertain future since the Coronavirus crisis forced it to close its doors in late March.
But, from Saturday 4 July it will host paying customers again at the two pubs it operates – The Trackside at Bury Bolton Street station and Buffer Stops at Rawtenstall.
In order to protect staff and customers in line with social distancing measures, visitors will only be able to enjoy drinks on outside tables at both venues.
At The Trackside two customers at a time will be permitted to order drinks at the bar, while at Buffer Stops, a table service will be in operation.
Staff will be provided with all the necessary PPE and there will be hand sanitiser stations available to all. Enhanced hygiene procedures will be in place to include the toilets and all payments are to be contactless.
Both venues will also follow all government advice in relation to keeping records of customers visiting.
The Trackside and Buffer Stops will be open from midday – 11pm on Saturday 4 July and Sunday 5 July. Opening times going forwards will then be subject to change as the lockdown eases.
ELR Chairman Mike Kelly commented: “We’re delighted to be able to start welcoming visitors back to the ELR again.
“The last three months have been the most challenging in our history, but this weekend marks a major milestone in our journey towards passengers returning.
“I’m really looking forward to throwing the doors open on both The Trackside and Buffer Stops after they have been closed for so long”
At The Trackside, staff will serve drinks from behind a perspex screen at the bar.Operations will be different at Buffer Stops, with staff allocated to work behind the bar and outdoors, taking at-seat customer orders.
Customers will be seated on a first come first served, all drinks will be served in recyclable plastic glasses and there will be no hot food available at either site for the time being.
Both venues are known for their selection of real ales and have received fresh deliveries from numerous local brewers ahead of their reopening.
The ELR has been fighting for its long-term survival ever since lockdown deprived it of vital visitor income.
It launched the East Lancashire Railway Support Fund in a bid to raise the £200,000 it requires to secure its future.
Donations have now passed the £142,000 mark, with contributions pouring in from as far afield as Australia, America and the United Arab Emirates.
Mike added: “The support of the public has been fantastic and we’re very grateful to everyone who has donated so far.
“The ELR still needs your support and any contributions that you can make will help us to keep steaming for the long term.
“We are working hard to ready the locomotives and track for re-opening the trains to passengers and we’ll update everyone on our plans as soon as possible.”
The East Lancashire Railway operates from Bolton Street Station in Bury, Gtr Manchester and was opened in 1987. It runs on a 12.5-mile line between Heywood in Greater Manchester and Rawtenstall in Lancashire. The original line carried passengers until 1972. It was formally closed in 1980 after being used to transport coal in the intervening years.
To support East Lancashire Railway visit: www.eastlancsrailway.org.uk.