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Tourism boost for Weardale on the track ahead
A HERITAGE railway is expected to boost a Dale’s economy by more than £1m this winter when it takes families on a mystical ride to the North Pole to meet Santa.
The second annual Polar Express Ride on Weardale Railway, in County Durham, will also signal ahead to a transformation of the line’s services aimed at boosting tourism.
When it hosted the attraction for the first time last year, £1m was spent in Weardale through ticket sales and visitors using local businesses such as accommodation, food, drink and entertainment providers and 83 seasonal jobs were created.
When it returns next month the ride should generate even more income as 25 per cent more tickets are available, with passenger numbers expected to rise from the 36,000 who rode it last year to 45,000.
After running the Polar Express service, from November 15 to December 29, first class carriages restored for the ride last year will get further upgrades and a kitchen car will be added ahead of a revolution in the railway’s summer services.
From May 2014, it will host themed events such as a Wild West train robbery, Victorian dress up, a charity bachelor’s auction and a teddy bear’s picnic; wine tasting, live music and theatre along with a weekend dining service offering afternoon teas, gourmet dinners and Sunday family lunches.
Debra Goodman, special events director, said: “We are building on our experience with our Polar Express operations to offer more than a train ride to customers.
“By also providing entertainment and a unique dining experience, we believe we can dramatically increase ridership and revenues.”
Miss Goodman oversees the production of six official Polar Express events, based on Chris Van Allsburg’s book and the hit animated film starring Tom Hanks, and Weardale is the world’s second more popular after Texas State Railway, in America.
Infrastructure changes are also being made to cope with extra visitors.
Financial controller, Bill Warriner, said: “Weardale Railway is now investing £80,000 on improvements for the car park, subject to planning permission from the council.
“This will help to reduce congestion and create a permanent plot for passengers arriving and leaving Stanhope.
“This is a fantastic investment in the future of Weardale Railway and of benefit to tourism all year round.”
The Polar Express ride is a one hour round-trip from Stanhope station, tickets are priced £15 to £35, and are available from the website WeardalePolarExpressRide.com or on 08000-232383.
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