23rd Mar 2020
We are sorry to let you know that, due to new UK Government advice on Coronavirus/Covid-19, the Mid Hants Railway is temporarily closed to the public. The safety of our staff, volunteers and visitors is our most important consideration, so we’ve taken the decision to suspend public services from Friday 20th March. The railway will remain open to undertake maintenance and overhaul tasks, but will be closed to the public.
This news is especially disappointing as you may have seen from a number of sources, including the latest Mid Hants News, that we have just held the biggest and most successful event in the history of the line. The commercial success of the grand re-opening event with Flying Scotsman coupled with the funds received from the completed Butts Bridge work mean that the railway has had a successful start to the new year. This is now severely at risk. You will know that the Mid Hants Railway relies on its ticket revenue to cover its operational costs which work out at more than £150,000 a month. Without money coming in from running public services, the railway is reliant on eating into its financial reserves built up in recent months in order to sustain itself.
There are a number of capital projects that we would like to progress this year that are focused on setting the railway up for its ongoing success:
Securing Ropley Pit Road – Circa £25,000 The rails that are part of the pit road at Ropley, used for servicing and overhauling locomotives, are nearing the end of their useful life and need replacing before they give way. The wall adjacent to the pit road which stops the rest of the yard falling on to the pit road is also life expired and urgently needs stabilising. If further funds were available, we would like to spend approximately £75,000 on installing another pit road in the yard itself, which would significantly improve our ability to service and overhaul engines as the existing pit is already used to maximum capacity.
Improvement to Back Office Systems – Circa £10,000 Although we are a heritage railway, we cannot afford to run the business with heritage IT systems. This year we are looking to improve our back office systems to give us more data on how people spend their money around the railway and streamline our accounting processes.
Engineering Improvements – Circa £22,500 We would like to continue to invest in the works at Ropley; this includes a fork lift truck to move heavy items around the Boilershop, improved lighting and a lifting beam in the carriage shed to enable us to overhaul carriage bogies. We would also like to concrete a number of areas around the site to increase useful working space.
Permanent Way Renewals – Circa £155,000 The ¼ mile of track between Bighton Hill bridge to the Ropley Down Outer Home has now reached the end of its useful life and needs £120,000 to renew. We would like to replace it and use the worn track to extend the Meon siding at Alton to enable future developments in that area. We would also like to purchase enough ballast to top up the rest of the line and replace a number of worn point timbers.
Signalling – Circa £26,500 The lever frame and locking at in the signal box at Medstead & Four Marks needs to be replaced urgently. We have almost completed work on the temporary replacement but need funds to complete it. As the signalling equipment across the line has been in use for a number of years there are a number of items that need renewing.
Buildings – Circa £130,000 The roofs on the station houses at both Alresford and Ropley are in need of replacement. Temporary repairs have been completed in the past but they are now time expired. The station building at Alton is suffering from subsidence and there are a number of improvements we would like to make there to improve the layout from our visitors perspective.
Canadian Pacific Project – Circa £310,000 The engineering elements of the Canadian Pacific project are charging on. Completing the boiler, restoring the second carriage and finishing the mechanical overhaul require a final funding push to ensure their completion by the end of next year.
In addition to Canadian Pacific, we have a forecast spend amounting to £145,700 this year to press on with the overhauls of Swanage and Lord Nelson.
During the course of this year, we will need to make difficult decisions and a number of these projects may need to be postponed to ensure the railway remains a going concern. You will see from our brief descriptions that we cannot afford to put off most of these projects. Although these will be difficult times for all of us, we are asking you to consider if you are able to provide financial support to the railway. The easiest way to provide a donation is through the website at https://preservation.watercressline.co.uk/support. Click through to the UK Virgin Money site (http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/charities/watercressline) which allows you to donate a single amount or pay monthly if your able to. This is a joint railway appeal for support from both MHR Ltd and MHRPS Ltd. The most effective way you can support is by gift aiding donations to the MHRPS Ltd who can then grant funds to support the MHR Ltd. Thank you for continuing to support us during this unprecedented situation. We hope to be able to welcome you back warmly to the Watercress Line soon.