he East Lancashire Railway (ELR) will welcome back passengers for the first time in over four months as it restores services to its lines from August 1.
The cherished heritage attraction was forced to close in late March to combat the Coronavirus outbreak.
But, after adopting a raft of new safety measures, heritage steam and diesel trains will once more journey along its tracks, with a special revised schedule from next month onwards.
The trial timetable will initially operate over the first two weekends (Aug 1-2 and Aug 8-9) while the railway builds up to a full service.
Passengers are being asked to book in advance – with discounts for those who choose to do so, though there will be limited seating available for those who want to pay on the day.
ELR has been awarded the visitor safety charter mark ‘We’re Good To Go’, the industry standard overseen by VisitEngland to verify they are following all government and industry COVID-19 guidelines.
An enhanced cleaning regime will be adopted across the network, which will see trains cleaned after every journey. Hand sanitiser will be freely available for visitors and station toilets will be frequently cleaned.
There will be no toilets available on-board trains for the time being, but facilities are available at Bury Bolton Street Station, Heywood, Ramsbottom and Rawtenstall.
Stations will be operating a one-way system, while a number of seats have been removed from use in each carriage to maintain one metre plus social distancing.
In line with current government advice passengers will be asked to wear face masks in stations and on the train.
The railway’s hugely-anticipated return follows months of uncertainty, during which its long-term future was cast into doubt.
Shortly after closing its doors, it launched the East Lancashire Railway Support Fund in a bid to raise the £200,000 required to secure its survival.
The public appeal has so far raised £145,000 with a further £125,000 donated by the East Lancs Railway Preservation Society.
ELR Chairman Mike Kelly commented: “We are absolutely overjoyed to welcome passengers back to the railway.
“It’s been a long and financially challenging four months for everyone involved as our revenues dried up overnight. But, through the incredible efforts of our staff, volunteers and supporters, we’ve managed to get through this really difficult period in our history.
“I’d like to thank every single person who has contributed to our fundraising efforts. Without it we would have struggled to reopen, but we need to be vigilant as the pathway to survival is not yet assured. We now face many months of hard work to scale back up our operations and ensure our loyal customers can return to enjoy the full experience of our heritage railway.
“For our returning visitors there will be some changes to moving around the railway and in carriages. New routines have been put in place to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone at ELR and we ask visitors to work with us to ensure a successful reopening.”
The ELR’s two pubs The Trackside and Buffer Stops successfully reopened early in July with everyone working well with social distancing. Passengers will be able to visit both and refreshments will be available at Bury Bolton Street and Rawtenstall stations when trains are running.
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 view the initial special timetable, for updates on further services added and to book tickets visit: eastlancsrailway.org.uk.