THERE have been ups and down along the track over the past couple of years but as Swindon and Cricklade Railway steams into its 40th year it is preparing for major new developments.

A long-held aim to re-lay the track heading north and eventually connect with the old station site at Cricklade is expected to take a big step forward even while the heritage group inches south towards Mouldon Hill.

Plans are being laid to mark the birthday in September and diesel fans are in for a treat with the return of the diesel gala.

Publicity officer Adrian Brodie said: “There is a lot happening. We’re not able to go into detail yet but we are expecting to make a big announcement in the New Year at some point.”

Volunteers have already started clearing the old track bed, which had all but disappeared in the six decades since the line was closed and the rails were taken up. Engineers have also had a look at the site of the Farfield Lane bridge, which was blown up.

The cost of the extension is currently estimated to be in the region of £2m, but the railway is looking at ways to get it done in the most economical way.

“It is going to be an interesting year,” said Adrian Thompson, who runs the railway’s friends Facebook page.

One campaign planned for 2018 is a push to get more local firms involved by offering the opportunity to carry out volunteer work as part of a team building or charity programme.

Recently staff from Network Rail rolled up their sleeves and set to work clearing undergrowth.

“We are launching an appeal to businesses within the area to see if they do charity days for groups of their staff to come and join us - any company that can give us a hand, whether it is cutting down trees before the bird nesting season or smartening up the fencing,” said Mr Thompson.

The railway has had an eventful time in the last couple of years. It suffered a devastating blow in May last year when its much-loved and very useful vintage diesel Thumper unit was destroyed in an arson attack.

A wagon-load of useful electrical gear also went up in flames and the arsonists have never been brought to justice.

To add insult to injury their insurers would only pay 15 per cent of their £80,000 claim.

Luckily an enthusiast who had a similar unit mothballed inside a storage shed in Pershore, Worcestershire, heard about the disaster and donated it to the group.

Now volunteers are slowly returning it to its former glory.

Vandals attacked again in February, this time with spray cans, damaging the delicate paintwork of some of the railway’s prized rolling stock.

Then in August there was more heartbreak when the railway lost its popular feline mascot Garfield. Born at Hayes Knoll he made the engine shed his home and was cared for by volunteers for a decade before illness took him from them.

One of his favourite places was the platform at Hayes Knoll where he greeted passengers and enjoyed being fussed over. He was also a notorious beggar and had a knack of knowing when the volunteers had opened their packed lunches.

“People still ask about him,” said Mr Brodie.

But there have been high points too. The real ale and cider festival enjoyed fantastic weather and big crowds, as did the wartime weekend.

In summer 2016 years of painstaking restoration work resulted in long term resident loco Swordfish moving under its own steam for the first time in more than half a century.

And as 2017 drew to a close the railway enjoyed one of its best pre-Christmas seasons with the Santa specials selling out.

“It was an amazingly popular event,” said Mr Thompson. “We really seem to have hit the mark this year. We had two excellent Santas.”

Normally that would signal the end of operations until spring. But the railway is planning a New Year’s Day treat for steam fans – a chance to see one of the stars, Ivor the Engine, on its last runs before going into a major overhaul.

There are services between 10.30am and 4pm. Visit for details.