Railway chairman has huge funding concerns

Railway chairman has huge funding concerns

25 March 2020

THE Downpatrick and Co Down Railway has warned that the impact of the coronavirus will have a “huge financial impact” on its operation.

The warning has been issued by the heritage railway’s chairman, Robert Gardiner, after he confirmed that the Market Street facility has been closed to the public.

Officials say the decision was taken with ”deep regret” with all operations suspended until further notice.

One of the most immediate impacts of the high profile closure of the railway is the traditional Easter Eggspress which will not be running, with the railway’s May bank holiday event also unlikely to proceed.

The Easter event normally attracts hundreds of visitors to the hugely popular heritage railway over the weekend with officials asking people to consider exchanging the tickets that they have already bought for vouchers to be used in the future.

Railway chairman, Robert Gardiner, said the closure decision was taken in line with the government’s advice on new social distancing measures which are required in order to reduce the transmission of the coronavirus.

“The health and safety of our customers and all our volunteer staff is of the utmost importance to us,” he explained.

“We feel it inappropriate to be encouraging gatherings of people at this time. As many of our volunteers would be in an at risk category, we also have a duty of care to them to avoid potential exposure.”

Mr Gardiner also revealed that as the railway expects volunteers to self-isolate, it would be very difficult to run train services at all in the current climate.

“As it stands, we will not be running any trains at Easter and are unlikely to run any events at the May Bank holiday either,” he explained.

“We will also be closing the railway museum to casual visitors and will not be able to accept any group visits for the foreseeable future.”

Mr Gardiner said it looked “incredibly unlikely” that the Downpatrick railway will be able to host any events until the current restrictions are lifted. 

He warned: “This could have a huge financial impact on us. 

“We are a self-funding, not-for-profit charity. The Northern Ireland tourism industry has already told the economy minister that up to 3,000 tourism businesses might not survive without immediate help.”

Mr Gardiner said he hopes that railway officials will be able to reschedule an “alternative Easter”  later in the year so that the event is not completely derailed.

He added: “Whilst we will refund anyone who has purchased tickets for the Easter Eggspress event on request.

“Given that this situation means we will have no income for most of the first part of 2020, I would plead with people to consider exchanging tickets for vouchers that we will honour for any future events of their choice.

“We need people’s support and understanding in order to survive during this period.”