New trains to Covid-safe compartments: What's new at Mid Norfolk Railway
- Credit: Archant
From new trains and paintwork to covid friendly compartments, the Mid Norfolk Railway will look almost unrecognisable as passengers return for the grand reopening next month.
The heritage railway has announced its plans to reopen on June 23, subject to government restrictions.
MNR will hold a grand opening event on June 26 and 27 which will feature the debut of the refurbished Maroon Mk1 and 2 coaches hauled by steam engine Standard 4 Tank 80078.
The weekend will also see the first use of the ex-Greater Anglia Mk3 coaches, which will be hauled by the newly refurbished class 47, 47596 Aldeburgh Festival in its new guise of D1933 in BR two-tone green livery.
It is currently expected that trains will leave from Dereham and will run non-stop to Wymondham Abbey Halt where passengers can leave the train to observe the engine run around but must then re-join for the journey back to Dereham.
Charlie Robinson, chairman of the Mid Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust which owns and operates the railway, said he's looking forward to welcoming back passengers after a "very frustrating" 15 months.
He added: "We have had several false starts where we have been hoping lockdown was going to be lifted.
"Obviously with all the social distancing and everything else we have been fairly limited with what we can get done but we have been able to keep up the track and carry out maintenance to make sure it is still up to standard.
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"The first difference will be the appearance of a lot of the coaches, four or five coaches have been completely repainted on the outside and they now look superb."
Following the reopening of the railway, there will be a reduced programme of special events including a visit from the world-famous steam engine the Flying Scotsman, the 1940s festival, MNR's Ales by Rails event, and the famous Polar Express, which will have 72 trains running this Christmas.
Customers who booked to head on board the 2020 train have now been emailed asking if they would like their ticket to be transferred to 2021, refunded or put forward as a donation.
But with the Coronavirus pandemic came the need for the railway to adapt ahead of hosting events such as the Polar Express.
"At the moment it looks like we will be selling compartments," said Mr Robinson. "Families can come and just book a whole compartment so they can be in their own social bubble and not have to mix households.
"We're working on the premise that there will be minimal social distancing required at the time and we will adapt if they have to.
"Everyone at the railway is looking forward to running our passengers services again, it has obviously been a difficult time for everyone, but the railway has survived and we think our varied programme of events will appeal to all and the best way to support the railway is to come along and enjoy a trip through the beautiful Norfolk countryside."
MNR will also be running a regular programme of cream tea trains, the Breckland Fryer fish and chips trains and jazz evenings and the buffet at Dereham station will also open on the first Wednesday of the month for the return of the popular biker's evenings.
Full details of all events and ticketing arrangements plus the seasons timetables will appear on the Mid Norfolk Railway website soon. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, all tickets for Mid Norfolk Railway services will initially only be available through pre-booking using the Mid-Norfolk Railway’s newly updated website.
Hopes for the future
Over the next few years, the Mid-Norfolk Railway hope to carry on maintaining what they have got in terms of locomotives, tracks and railway buildings.
Along with this, they're also hoping to create an East Anglian Rail Heritage Centre at Dereham Train Station to give visitors vital information about the history of the railway line.
MNR also hope to restore the line up to the County School Station which serves the villages of North Elmham and Guist.
Finally, they hope to extend the railway station at Wymondham Abbey to create a permanent fixture in the town.
The team hope to bring over a permanent signal box and create a two-sided platform after the level crossing.
Sights to be seen on the Mid-Norfolk Railway
1. Dereham's traditional Victorian station and platform
2. Wildlife - Deer and owls are seen throughout the year and the fishing lakes at Whinbugh and Thuxton provide an ideal habitat for swans and geese
3. The picturesque Wymondham Abbey
4. The restored stations of Yaxham, Thuxton, Hardingham and Kimberley
5. Turning of the train at Wymondham