Disappointment as Polar Express™ 2020 trains are cancelled at the SDR

It is with considerable regret and great disappointment that this year’s planned Polar Express™ trains for the Christmas season at the Buckfastleigh-based South Devon Railway (SDR) have had to be cancelled.

This decision comes as a result of the continuing challenges of COVID-19 restrictions, and the increasing number of cases being reported not just in the South West, but all over the country which have different restrictions in place.

The decision was made by the Polar Express™ organisers and license holders, PNP Events of Telford, who are informing all their customers of the news via various communication means all over the country.

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As well as this news disappointing local South West families, other people from as far away as South Wales, the Midlands, London, East Anglia and along Southern England, had booked to travel on SDR trains this year.

Over 16,800 people had flocked to book to travel on the SDR’s Polar Express™ for the first time over 17 days on 85 scheduled trains in late November and through December, and which will be a further blow to the SDR in its most difficult year ever having not been able to run any trains for 220 days since 17 March.

A copy of the letter being sent to PNP’s customers booking with the SDR is appended to the end of this press release. For information, PNP Events had also planned to run Polar Express™ trains at the Wensleydale Railway in North Yorkshire this year which have also been cancelled as of today.

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PNP Events’ reluctant decision is wholly supported by the SDR Board and was taken only after a very great deal of joint consideration both by PNP and SDR senior personnel. A small team from the SDR has been meeting PNP virtually via Microsoft Teams every week for the past couple of months in planning for the event, and which would have been a first for the SDR and PNP of course.

But, with CV-19 still being an ever present and changing factor to be considered, the possibility of having to ‘pull’ the Polar Express™ operation this year has always formed part of these weekly discussions, and so an agreed date was set of mid-October to be the final date for a ‘Go/No-Go’ decision by mutual agreement.

At the last SDR Board meeting, it had been agreed unanimously that the SDR would be happy to go ahead with running Polar Express™ this year, as had been the case throughout the whole planning stage, and the SDR was looking forward to welcoming passengers back to the railway and generating some revenue too.

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But the rapidly worsening CV-19 situation and with further restrictions in place, or increasingly likely to apply soon, has now made the decision to cancel inevitable in order to not only avoid later disappointment for valued customers, but also avoid incurring large costs required to hold the event.

Commenting about the disappointing news today, SDR Board Chairman Jon Morton said: “It gives me no pleasure to have to announce this sad news today that our Polar Express™ trains won’t be running this year after all in what has been a very difficult, challenging and bizarre season for us so far.

“The planned Polar Express™ services were providing us some hope of running trains and welcoming passengers again this year, but they too have now been dashed on the rocks by this dreadful pandemic. Unfortunately, this cancellation for the SDR follows a now nationwide trend.

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“People may well be aware that our Devon neighbours at the Dartmouth Steam Railway has recently had to cancel its own ‘Train of Lights’ operation for this year too, and an announcement by PNP is also being made today about the cancellation of their other UK Polar Express™ event on the Wensleydale Railway in North Yorkshire.

“And the Mid-Norfolk Railway has also recently cancelled its planned Polar Express™ trains too sadly but, pleasingly, we understand our good friends at Seaton Tramway in Devon still plan to run their now regular Polar Express ™ operations this year.

“As a result of all this, the SDR is no longer planning to operate any regular passenger trains until the start of the 2021 season.

“The SDR is, however, working with its Heads of operational departments to come up with a revised approach for competence refreshing so that the railway can enable operational crews to keep their safety critical skills fresh and up to date.

“There will be lots of work to do and, as always, we’ll need the sterling efforts of our workforce to help with PW work, lineside clearance, station maintenance, competence management, risk assessing and all of the other things that go on to enable us to run trains!”

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Shannon Butcher

Let off some steam...