A devastating double blow dealt by the pandemic and an attack by vandals means major plans to extend the Swindon and Cricklade Railway have had to be put on hold.

Volunteers who run the popular heritage attraction discovered the Taw Valley Halt had been targeted by yobs who ripped up fencing and smashed signage.

The line, which usually runs steam and diesel services at the weekends as well as special events, has been closed since the start of the lockdown.

Allan Bott, one of the volunteers, said: “It’s heart-breaking and soul destroying if I’m being brutally honest.

“A lot of members at the railway put their heart and soul into it and a lot of us dip our hands into our pockets repeatedly to help the railway carry on.

“A lot of the work that you see on site is often paid for by members because they just want to see the railway carry on flourishing. To see it all destroyed in front of our eyes is very soul destroying.”

The lack of business and the damage, means the multi-million pound Return to Cricklade project which aims to reinstate the line to Cricklade has been shunted to a siding. Allan explained: “We’ve not made much money at all. We had one train journey before the lockdown so we’ve barely made any revenue.

“We’re not using as much fuel, but as soon as we do start running we’ll have to order in several tonnes of coal at short notice.

“We’re still trying to extend towards Cricklade and that requires a lot of funding. All money we’ve raised for that will either remain where it is or we’ll see if we can allocate it to budgets because we’re not making any money so it’s very difficult.

“All the donations we’ve had for the damage will go towards the damage, but all of our big projects are currently on hold.”

The latest attack on the railway comes after incidents of trespass last month.

Last August windows on the Moonraker dining carriage were smashed while it was undergoing renovation and two years ago youths attempted to derail a train as it headed towards the halt.

In May 2016 fire totally destroyed a vintage diesel unit at the Hayes Knoll end of the line, causing more than £100,000-worth of damage. And just a year later a 58-year-old coach was damaged in another arson attack.

Allan added: “I don’t know why we’re targeted, I wish I did. It could be out of boredom? I honestly couldn’t tell you why we’re a target.

“I appreciate we’re not a very secure environment, it’s very easy to access the railway. It’s just very frustrating.”

A Wiltshire Police spokeswoman said: “We have received a report of criminal damage to railway fencing and steel mesh panels at the Swindon and Cricklade Railway. It’s believed this occurred between May 2 and 13.” Anyone who saw any suspicious activity at the railway is asked to call 101.