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Monday, January 2, 2023

Railway is now financially strong but Corwen opening delayed

* The new Corwen station, where a test train ran last May, will now open later than planned this year.

The opening of the new Corwen Station on Llangollen Railway has run into a delay.

The new centrepiece building at the extended terminus of the heritage line was due to be welcome its first passengers in early March this year. But the grand opening won't now be able to take place until later in 2023.

Apart from this setback, it's all good news for the railway which has made an unexpectedly rapid recovery from liquidation in early 2021 and the headaches of the Covid lockdown.

Phil Freeth, Finance Director and Board Member of the Trust which now runs the line said: "Llangollen Railway’s financial position has improved significantly through 2022, despite continued challenges facing the Heritage Railway Sector. 

"Results from 2022 have exceeded expectations and, despite long overdue investment in the railway’s track, coaching stock, and the engine shed and yard, our cash resources remain buoyant. 

"Financially, we are in an incredibly strong position. Long may that continue after the challenges we have faced over the last couple of years. 

"Looking ahead to 2023, we expect the challenging economic climate that the country faces will require us to continue to act cautiously, but we are already well-prepared for this and will start the year from a far stronger position than we have for many years."

A further statement from the railway says: "The 2021 audited accounts were spectacular, there is no other way to describe the outcome.  However, a closer look reveals:

-     the significance of £353,000 grant income, principally by way of Covid relief grants from the Welsh Government’s Cultural Recovery Fund and from Denbighshire County Council (business rates relief) for which we are very grateful.

-     £215,000 was received by way of donations, principally courtesy of the generosity of the public in their support of the Full Steam Ahead and Rolling Stock appeals. Again we are extremely appreciative of this show of support.

-     Legacies and gift aid were also at an unusually high level.

"We had limited steam traction available for much of the season, so motive power was supplied by DMUs and diesel locomotives which reduced our costs dramatically."

The statement adds: "The anticipated outcome for 2022 is a net profit of between £50k - 100k subject to any adjusted treatments, plus or minus, on audit.

"Availability of suitable steam traction has continued to be a challenge, so we continue to rely heavily on DMUs and diesel locos. This has also assisted with control of costs, given the price volatility and availability of steam coal.  This is likely to remain the case, certainly in the short term.

"Ticket sales have been broadly 10% in excess of budget which was set at 75% of pre-pandemic levels. We also received the benefit of a significant legacy without which the bottom line would reveal a loss of £50k - £100k.

"We have invested substantially in Permanent Way and our coaching stock which is long overdue so, whilst this expenditure could be said to be discretionary, it has really become a necessity.  

"We want to offer a good customer experience and coaching stock needs to look the part insofar as its vintage allows.  This work is ongoing and the intention is to redouble this effort in 2023.

"For 2023 we are budgeting for a very substantial loss given we have the cash reserves. As mentioned this is largely because of the planned continued investment in the infrastructure and rolling stock.

"The budget also includes significant investment in personnel as we try to capitalise on external partnerships and improve volunteer recruitment and the volunteer experience, commercial expertise, and grant application and management resource. Hopefully much of this will be grant-aided thus offsetting the bottom line impact.

"Trying to predict ticket sales during an energy crisis and a cost of living crisis is obviously impossible so it may be the budget is subject to revisions as the year progresses.  We will certainly have to continue to keep a close eye on costs."

Corwen delay

Dealing with the delay to the Corwen opening, a railway spokesperson said: "One further piece of news for you is that there will be a delay to the planned opening of Corwen station, which had been scheduled for early March 2023. 

"The completion and installation of the island platform canopy, a large structure which will require heavy lifting equipment and is being delivered by a third party contractor, supported by a significant government grant, has regrettably been delayed until the new year. 

"This will have a knock-on effect on completion of other work on the station. The volunteer team working on the station however continue to make excellent progress, with the island platform building, signalbox and emergency access ramp all progressing well. 

"Preparations are also being made for the erection of the canopy in early 2023. The water tower has also been connected to the borehole supply. A revised reopening date will be confirmed in the new year once the timescale for the canopy has been confirmed."

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