A RAIL museum has been dealt a devastating blow after a car crash wiped out its steam train service.
Bowes Railway, in Springwell Village, faces losing thousands of pounds in revenue after the vehicle damaged its level crossing and smashed a historic wall.
Chairman Graeme Miller said the charity was looking at all possibilities to get the crossing and wall repaired as soon as possible, but admitted it could spell disaster for the centre.
“It’s terribly frustrating and disappointing,” he said. “That level crossing is how our engine crosses the road and runs down the track for the people who come to the museum for that experience.
“We’re going to lose out on revenue that this museum desperately needs, and it’s going to put a serious question mark above us at the end of the year.”
Mr Miller said the museum has made an insurance claim, and will also claim for loss of earnings, but he said the procedure could take months to resolve. There are no cash reserves to fund work in the meantime.
“At the minute, we’re stuck,” he said.
The railway is a scheduled ancient monument and is rated among the most important industrial heritage sites in the UK. The line was first opened by George Stephenson in 1826, to take coal to the Tyne.
Mr Miller said skilled professionals were needed to carry out the repairs, and the museum was still unsure of the full extent of the work needed.
“One of the rails is cracked, it may have to be dug up,” he said. “You can’t just repair the wall with bricks and mortar. We have to keep everything as it was in 1826.”
The museum has stressed it is still open for business, with its buildings, collections and the only operational preserved standard gauge rope-hauled railway in the world accessible for visitors.
But Mr Miller admitted most families who visited the site were drawn in by the steam train rides.
The accident has come at a bad time for the Bowes Railway, which is preparing for the busy Easter and summer season.
Mr Miller added: “We need to make more people aware we’re here and encourage them to visit what is a very important piece of heritage for not just the North East, but the world.”
On May 1 there is a collectors’ exhibition at the museum of rare Lone Star and Crescent toys and die-cast models, as well as a range of items to buy, sell and swap.
For more information tel. 416 1847 or visit www.bowesrailway.co.uk