The latest recorded figures from the Heritage Railway Association state that in 2013 Heritage Railway:
- generated £106 million in revenue, up 9% on the previous year
- injected back £286 million into local communities through shops, cafes, hotels etc
- carried 7.7 million passengers, up 8% on the previous year
- has been responsible for the creation of in excess of 300,000 local jobs in associated businesses since 2010
The Bala Lake Railway is exceeding growth expectations and showing a sustainable increase of:
- 19% in revenue, 3% ahead of the trending statistics
- 12% in passengers, 4% ahead of trending statistics
- 38% in retail sales and catering
Largely based in rural regions, these railways are becoming a lifeline for people in areas of high unemployment and in need of regeneration. I draw a comparison from the North Norfolk Railway in East Anglia, where I am now Chairman and have been a Director for 15 years. The NNR is a 5½-mile standard gauge railway on the coast of the North Sea. In high season it employs 50 staff and carries 160,000 passengers annually. A recent survey carried out by the East of England Tourist Authority announced that apart from the staff that it employs, there are 600 jobs dependent on the railway's existence. It is a considered fact nationally that for every £1 spent on the railway, £2.70 is spent locally in the community. With an annual turnover of £2 million the NNR contributes nearly £6 million annually to the regional economy. Of particular note is that the nearest place of dense population is Norwich, which is an hour's drive or rail journey away. 95% of visitors are tourists, either on holiday or day trippers and only 5% are railway enthusiasts.
The Bala Lake Railway is a 4½-mile narrow gauge railway, established over 40 years ago on a former Great Western Railway track bed. The visitors are almost all entirely tourists and it is one of the thirteen narrow gauge railways of Wales. Deep in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park from its start point at Llanuwchllyn, the line runs parallel to Bala Lake and descends to almost lake level offering the visitor spectacular views of the lake itself and the lush surrounding pasture and woodlands that leads the eye to the stunning vista of mountains Arenig Fawr, Aran Benllyn and Aran Fawddwy. Picnic sites at Llangower provide the perfect spot for a break in the journey on a summer's day for a picnic on the foreshore.
The line currently terminates at Pen y Bont, a remote terminus some 1,200m from the town itself. With limited parking, a poor visible profile and no amenities, passengers rarely venture into Bala Town and visitors to Bala Town are largely unaware of the railway's existence.
The Red Dragon Project, under the auspices of the Bala Lake Railway Trust, has been established to build a £2.5 million extension into the town of Bala and fulfil the potential of one of Wales' most scenically beautiful railways.