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Plans to bring back golden age of steam

PUBLISHED: 12:29 11 December 2008 | UPDATED: 21:59 05 July 2010

NEARLY 80 years since the closure of the Southwold railway, a heritage group could soon be bringing the gentle elegance of Victorian steam travel back to the seaside resort.

NEARLY 80 years since the closure of the Southwold railway, a heritage group could soon be bringing the gentle elegance of Victorian steam travel back to the seaside resort.

The Southwold steam railway park, where a replica locomotive would offer trips around a loop of track, is part of ambitious plans for a £200,000 project to bring the steam-train experience back to the town.

Proposals have been drawn up to build the visitor attraction, incorporating a railway loop, museum, café and shop, on the old Sole Bay Car Spares yard at the end of Blyth Road.

A narrow-gauge railway started running between Southwold and Halesworth in 1879 but closed in 1929 when it could no longer compete with a new bus service.

The Southwold Railway Trust has been working for years to try to revive the entire length of the old railway line but is now focusing its fundraising on setting up the steam- railway park as an attraction for the town's many visitors.

John Bennett, from the Southwold Railway Trust, said that members are already working on creating a replica Sharp Stewart tank locomotive - the type of train which would have been used on the original Southwold railway - to run in the park.

He said that £7,500 has already been raised towards the estimated £200,000 cost of the project from trust members and visitors to the Southwold Railway Trust shop in the High Street.

He said: “During the summer of 2008, the sight of families in raincoats strolling miserably up and down the High Street looking for something entertaining to do has endorsed the idea that additional facilities would not go amiss here. The experience of other heritage railways is that they are viable and attract sufficient visitors to cover costs.”

The site is currently used as a breakers' yard and was previously used as a tip for the town's rubbish. If the plans for the steam-railway park are approved, the existing shed would be used to house an engine shed and workshop, café, museum and shop.

A stretch of 2ft-gauge looped track would run through landscaped gardens so visitors could experience steam travel for themselves.

Parking for about 40 cars would be provided on site. Mr Bennett said: “The trust would also consider the provision, during peak times, of a historic bus or coach running on a circular route linking, say, the pier, the market place, the harbour, the railway park, Reydon corner and the Randolph Hotel.”

A decision on the plans for the steam railway park is expected to be made by Waveney District Council in spring 2009.

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