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Severn Valley’s ‘Santa’ trains hit a new high in popularity (29th November 2011)

Times may be hard, and families everywhere are being forced to make cuts and compromises in their spending. But in the Midlands, it seems there’s one seasonal tradition that families are absolutely NOT prepared to compromise upon – and that’s their annual visit to see Santa at the Severn Valley Railway.

The Kidderminster-to-Bridgnorth steam ‘heritage’ line which this weekend (December 3rd & 4th) begins running the first of almost 100 ‘Santa’ trains, is heading for one of its most buoyant Christmas seasons in more than 30 years.

By the close of business on Friday, more than 25,000 seats on the railway’s Santa trains had been sold, almost two thirds of all trains are full, and reports SVR Visitor Services manager David Mee: “The way bookings have been coming in, it’s clear that as hard-pressed as many families are in these recessionary times, the traditional steam train ride on the Severn Valley to see Santa is not something they are willing to sacrifice.

“We’ve sold 1,800 seats more than at this same stage last year”, our two ‘Christmas Carol trains (on Saturdays December 10th & 17th) have been full for several weeks, and places on the Christmas Luncheon and Evening Dining Trains from Kidderminster during December are not far from being exhausted.
 
“December is always the railway’s busiest month of the year, but this year is proving to be exceptional.”

The SVR is sticking to the same format which has served the railway so well since Santa services were initiated back in the 1970s, steam-hauled ‘Santa Special’ trains running to a particularly atmospheric Grotto at Arley every Saturday and Sunday in December, and midweek ‘Santa’s Herald’ trains running to Highley, with Santa on boardi, in the last week before Christmas (this year on Wednesday December 21st – Friday December 23rd).

Every fare-paying child receives a present from Santa, and this year more than 14,000 presents will be given out. The fare for adults and children is the same - £10.50 - although as an incentive to encourage patronage of the traditionally slower-selling trains at the beginning of December, the SVR this year offered seats on its December 3rd & 4th services at a £1 reduction.

With eight of the 11 Santa trains running on each of those days selling out, the railway is counting the promotion as a success, but as David Mee explains, success for the railway is not about ‘packing people in’ , but ensuring that visitors enjoy the Santa experience enough to want to return again next year.

“We learned from experience many years ago that simply ‘packing people in’ – even though there was the demand -  was not the way to do it. If people have to stand on trains and then join slow-moving queues to see Santa in his Grotto, they are not likely to come back again in a hurry.

“That’s why each of the Santa specials is limited to 350 passengers,  all seated, and the intervals between trains sufficient to ensure that there’s no rush or crush. We just want to create a pleasant and memorable Christmas experience for our visitors, and if this year’s figures are any sort of guide, then we are getting somewhere close.”

Full details of all Severn Valley Santa trains, and the railway’s post-Christmas ‘Festive Season Service’ which runs every day from Boxing Day to January 2nd inclusive (five departures each day from both Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, and serving The Engine House Visitor Centre at Highley), can be found online at www.svr.co.uk.