Santa’s annual appearance at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has become the latest activity to fall victim to the coronavirus pandemic.
The popular event, which brings families together to travel with Santa on the railway’s festive steam trains, was due to start on December 5 and run over three weekends, but has been cancelled for 2020.
The railway had its plans for the Santa Specials well advanced and had carefully designed what was hoped to be both a safe and fun event, but the pandemic made it just too difficult to put on.
The Llanfair line’s volunteers are usually drawn from all over Powys and the rest of the UK, and many of Santa’s fans travel from the West Midlands to see him.
The volunteers could not be sure they would be able to travel to work on the event, while visitors from England are unable to cross the border except for work and other limited reasons.
“After a very successful, socially-distanced late summer and autumn season of steam trains, we had high hopes for Santa’s visit,” said W&LLR general manager Charles Spencer.
“But, as English lockdown followed Welsh firebreak, and with the possibility of more restrictions leading up to Christmas, it was clear that the only practical option was to cancel.”
W&LLR member Robert Robinson, who was in charge of planning for the festive trains, added that all members of the Santa team had worked hard to adapt the line’s usual event to ensure everyone’s safety in these unusual circumstances.
“We are very grateful for all their efforts – they are as disappointed as the children will be,” he said.
The Llanfair line will now turn to making preparations for its 2021 operating season, which will include regular steam trains and special events to welcome both locals and visitors.
The railway has made it through this very difficult year with the generous support of its members, vital financial help from Powys County Council, the Welsh Government and the Heritage Lottery Fund and an overwhelming response to two major fund-raising appeals.
More than £150,000 was raised which compensated for some of the revenue lost in 2020 and ensured that a major overhaul of original W&LLR locomotive ‘The Earl’ could proceed to its completion.
The railway will be spending the winter months ensuring it’s ready to run its 120-year old trains in 2021. With extensive Covid-safety precautions in place for its staff, over the winter there will be new volunteering opportunities. Anyone interested in joining in can contact Robert Robinson, the W&LLR volunteer liaison officer, at [email protected].uk