Since it re-opened nearly half a century ago in 1973, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway has become one of the North of England’s most treasured and popular tourist attractions.
And now the heritage railway’s managers are planning to open up the line to a far wider spectrum of visitors as an ambitious project totalling almost £10m nears completion.
The final stage of the fundraising drive for the £9.8m initiative, dubbed Yorkshire’s Magnificent Journey, is underway in the hope of raising the last remaining £300,000 before the railway is set to re-open again at Easter.
The railway’s general manager, Chris Price, told The Yorkshire Post: “We are nearing the total we need for the project, which is testament to the generosity of people who have given money to us so far.
“But we do need one final push for people to dip their hands in their pockets to help us reach the total. It is an ambitious project, especially with the current challenges we are all facing, but it is one that will help secure the future of the railway.”
The Yorkshire’s Magnificent Journey project, which launched in 2018, will see a vast carriage shed completed next month to the north of Pickering, which will allow the railway’s rolling stock to be housed under one roof for the first time.
Four carriages are also being converted to provide improved disabled access, while another carriage is being transformed into an education facility for school visits.
The scheme will also see efforts to boost the railway’s army of volunteers, which currently number in the region of 1,000 registered members.
Half of the £9.8m total has been secured through the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund and other sources including the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership, while the remainder has been raised by the railway itself.
The railway’s managers announced earlier this month that they had reached the £440,000 target of a crisis appeal which was launched in the spring of last year to counter the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The line has endured repeated closures during the succession of lockdowns, and was only able to attract a fifth of its normal 300,000 annual visitors when it was able to open between August and Christmas Eve.
The closure of operations saw the railway generate just £1.5m of its annual £6m income, but the losses have been offset by a £1.9m grant from the Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund as well as donations, including an unexpected major windfall bequeathed in a will.
Mr Price stressed that the railway’s operation during 2021 will be dependent on the easing of current restrictions, but he was adamant that visitors will be welcomed back at some stage.
He said: “We are planning to open at Easter as usual, and we are planning to return to as normal as possible. We cannot plan too far in advance, and some of our annual special events are hanging in the balance.
“But people will be able to enjoy the North Yorkshire Moors Railway again later this year, which is something we all want to see.
Laying claim to being Europe’s most popular heritage line, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway can trace its origins back to the 19th century.
The original line between Pickering and Whitby was planned by George Stephenson to open trade routes inland from the coast and opened in 1836. The line eventually fell victim in 1965 to Dr Richard Beeching’s infamous cutbacks to the rail network, but reopened again in 1973.
It runs through the North York Moors National Park with stations at Pickering, Levisham, Newtondale Halt, Goathland, Grosmont and Whitby.
To donate to the Yorkshire’s Magnificent Journey appeal, visit www.nymr.co.uk/yorkshires-magnificent-journey