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Railway Festival on course to be most popular yet
Buy this photo » Crowds at the Swindon Railway Festival
SWINDON Railway Festival is growing its size and audience and bucking a national trend in the process, according to organisers.
Over the course of the weekend, at least 5,000 visitors were expected to pass through the doors at the Steam Museum – the largest turnout in its 12-year history.
Ian Surtees, income generation manager at Steam, said the festival is not yet the largest in the country, but its growing audience does not tally with the dwindling popularity at other events across the nation.
The festival’s setting is one of the main features of this success according to Ian, who said the museum’s own status as an attraction proves a big advantage in drawing in festival goers.
Pop mogul and rail enthusiast Pete Waterman was in attendance with his models Just Like the Real Thing, alongside the dynamic teams of Hornby, Bachmann and Dapol who were running their latest bits of kit on the test track.
Pete said: “The meaning of this festival has changed for me over the years. I have been coming since day one, but this is just like meeting friends now, whenever I come back.
“We made it through tough times to keep it open in the first few years, but we are still here now, stronger than ever.
“It has become a regular festival in the railway calendar, which is massively important, because this museum needs a show every year.”
One of the centrepieces of this year’s festival was the largest-ever railway layout displayed at the event.
At 80 feet long, the St Ives layout, based upon the Cornwall town’s traditional line, commanded most attention throughout the day, though emotions were running high for Ray Dodds, the leader of the team behind its design.
Michael Heaven, the man who inspired the St Ives layout, died last month after battling with cancer. He never got to see the finished product in action.
Fighting back the tears, Ray said: “Michael asked me to continue work on the track and bring it to the festival, whatever happened to him, and we are proud to have done that. It is still quite an emotional subject.”
Live steam traction engines from Hatch Heritage and Steam Engineers Ltd, as seen recently on the popular BBC programme Hairy Bikers’ Restoration Road Trip, were on show outside the museum to welcome visitors.
Families and rail enthusiasts were treated to more than 20 model railway layouts displayed throughout the museum.
First-time visitor Steve Clements, 58, of Buckingham Road, was drawn to the event after setting up his childhood train set for the first time in more than 40 years.
“I have already converted my roof for the set. Its taken a lot of work, but I am really getting into it, and it’s a nice project for my Dad and I,” he said.
“This festival has been great for bringing the family along. My grandfather’s name is even on the wall as a former railway worker in Swindon.”
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