Watch as volunteers make passionate plea for help to prevent it being the end of the line for Roker Park miniature railway in Sunderland
It could be the end of the line for Roker Park’s miniature railway unless greater financial support and more volunteers are found to enable the trains to keep running.
The miniature railway, which runs five different engines on its Roker Park track, is operated by the City of Sunderland Model Engineering Society.
It has been enjoyed by generations of Sunderland children since a track first opened on the site in 1946, but now faces the the very really prospect of running out of steam.
The much loved service, one of the biggest attractions in the park, relies on public donations and membership subscriptions to function, but with both contributions dwindling as the cost of living starts to bite, coupled with the massive escalation in energy costs, club secretary Peter Russell fears for the railway’s future.
Peter, 75, said: “The railway costs on average around £2,500 per year to run. In the last two years we’ve made losses of £4,000 and this year it looks to be even more, which is just not sustainable. We really need a good turnout and donations from people during this year’s Festival of Light, which is when we generate most of our income.
"Even then, without long-term support, we are eating into our savings and will struggle to see out beyond three years."
Like most organisations, the railway has been hit hard by the rapid rises in the cost of living.
The society’s treasurer, Neil Bradshaw, 63, said: “Normally we take around £120 per day in donations from people riding the trains. However, last Saturday (September 24) we took just £43. We normally bring in around £200 to £300 per month but this entire year we’ve only made £400 from donations..
"With the cost of living at the moment, we have less people coming down and those who do have less money to make donations.
"We need to charge 10 large batteries to run the trains which means we are heavily dependent on electricity. We had been paying £800 per year on our energy bills but this is now set to double to £1,600.
"The cost of everything has gone up. Even the blue paper rolls we use to clean our hands has increased from a pack of six for £18 to what is now £28.”
Committee member and volunteer John Maw, 61, added: “A couple of years ago we had to buy £5,000 worth of steel for a new track and we recently had to spend £400 on a new lawn mower. We really need a good Festival of Light if we are going to make it through the year.”
With an ageing demographic, the society is also in “desperate need of new blood” to be able to continue to run its weekend railway service.
Peter said: “We have 68 members in the society but over 70 per cent of them are over the age of 70 and many are now infirm and unable to help. We need around 10 to 12 volunteers each weekend to run our five trains and at the moment we are averaging between three and five people.
"What we really need are some new, ideally younger members to come in and help ensure we can keep the railway going.”
Neil added: “Ideally you want to be able to swap drivers. I’ve got arthritis and after several hours sat on the train in the cold in October and November you end up in a lot of pain.”
Without the support of the local community, the familiar sight of families enjoying a train ride through Roker Park may sadly soon become a thing of the past.
Peter said: “Without this support we will have to close, which would be very upsetting. We need more people coming along and using the trains, and making donations if they can afford it.
"It would also be great if any local businesses could offer some form of sponsorship which we could display on bot the trains and our uniforms. Anyone who would like to become a member and volunteer should come along one weekend to find out more and consider joining up.”