South Devon Railway secures second round of grant funding from Government

Laura White
Laura White
Leaving Buckfastleigh station – photographs © Chris Saville

The South Devon Railway (SDR) has announced that its recent Second Round bid application to the Department of Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) ‘Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage’ (CRFH) for financial support has been successful.

The SDR will now receive a CRFH Round 2 grant of £165,900, all of which will help the seven-mile former GWR branch line recover from the enforced closure of the railway since March 2020, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the SDR has also been informed recently that it has been offered an additional award up to a maximum of £257,800 to re-inflate its cash reserves to a value of eight weeks, based on average annual turnover and projected unrestricted reserves at July 2021, which is a further significant boost to the SDR. The ‘Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage’ fund was created by DCMS to help heritage organisations nationally survive and recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The success of this further CRFH application is fundamental to the immediate future of the SDR as it enables it, along with SDR support organisations, to prepare for the planned reopening of the railway on 17th May, 2021, and beyond.

Commenting on the grant award, SDR Chairman Jon Morton said: “We are all bowled over to have received this second round of grant support and offer towards our reserves thanks to the Department of Culture Media and Sport, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and Historic England. It’s really fantastic news for us and so greatly appreciated!

‘It will certainly provide us with the additional vital financial lifeline needed for the railway’s continued survival, and we are confident that all of the projects to gain support will help get the much-loved steam trains of the South Devon Railway running normally again very soon, hopefully in May.

‘From all sources, including these latest grants, we have now raised or received a wonderful amount of financial help, totalling £1,325,194.03 and we are still raising money to try and get to our next fund raising target of £2 million!

‘All of this vitally needed money will be applied to safeguard the railway for the future and hopefully put us back on track for running steam trains in 2021 and beyond, but we are not flush with money as some might now think – far from it!

Fireman Alan Bennett with Driver allan Cash – photographs © Chris Saville

‘So, the really hard work for us starts soon, and we must carry on fundraising for the future too, and like never before, in order to catch up with raising more cash for vital infrastructure investment that simply cannot be covered by our limited annual operating income alone.

‘We plan to do this in 2021 with the launch of our new share appeal and changed status as a Charitable Community Benefit Society (CCBS).

‘Raising funds never ends for us because heritage steam railways are increasingly expensive to run, and our new CCBS status will help us to achieve keeping our bold ambition of running GWR era steam trains well into the future.”

However, the way the SDR is run in the future may look very different. With the very real prospect of no more British mined coal being available from 2022, and organisations such as heritage steam railways potentially being reliant on more expensive, less-efficient and more-polluting overseas coal instead, options are being thought about for the South Devon Railway to consider electrification of the scenic seven-mile line as an alternative to using steam or diesel engines in the future.

SDR spokeswoman Flora Poil comments: “Whilst we’re currently trying to work our way out of the COVID-19 situation this year and our steam trains will definitely run in 2021, it could be the last year of steam operations because our coal supplies will run out soon and the expensive, overseas import options leave us caught between a rock and a hard place, sadly.

‘So, we may have to consider the ‘nuclear’ option of electrifying our beautiful railway complete with ugly overhead wires and catenary gantries to keep the trains running, but we’re looking into a post-Brexit deal on the overhead equipment sourced from redundant Channel Tunnel stores.

‘We would not be allowed to use a third rail current collection system alongside the track similar to London Underground trains under current regulations, although the recently withdrawn 1938 Tube stock from the Isle of Wight might yet be an option for us if we can source a big enough car battery to power them.

‘The new generation of battery powered trains being developed are way beyond our means too, so that option is not possible, although we are looking at some of the commercially available heat-logs from Aldi and Lidl that might fuel steam locos.

‘So, we’re now considering installing a hydro-electric generating station under our bridge over the wide part of the River Dart at Nursery Pool near Buckfastleigh, which could generate enough power to run one of the older main-line 25Kv overhead electric trains now being withdrawn from service for a fraction of the cost of battery power, and we could probably run our normal coaches with that type of loco.”

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