How turbulent two years at North Yorkshire Moors Railway is re-writing the future for best-loved heritage attraction

A turbulent two years has brought ‘clarity of purpose’ to one of the region’s best-loved heritage attractions, its general manager has said, as it looks to its future with sharpened focus.

Saturday, 1st January 2022, 11:45 am
Updated Monday, 3rd January 2022, 4:37 pm

The North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) is the UK’s largest preserved heritage railway, carrying some 300,000 passengers each year and injecting an estimated £45m into the county’s economy.

The charity was forced to “live on its wits” amid sudden shutdowns due to Covid restrictions, the trust’s general manager Chris Price has said, citing fundraising campaigns that grew to national appeals.

Now with a focus on its future, he insists the railway is sharper for being “shocked” into alertness, given it could become one of the last places in Britain to burn lump coal.

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Chris Price, general manager at NYMR.

Mr Price said: “This has given us the opportunity to look at ourselves and say ‘we’re in a dramatically changing world’. Are we going to be the same? I suspect not.

“Now we are probably a better organisation. It’s brought into focus what is important – and that is people. For two years we’ve been concerned only with survival. Covid has shocked us out of the mundane. We cannot take anything for granted.”

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The NYMR, born from a railway preservation society, is now one of Yorkshire’s best-known tourism attractions with more than 100 full-time staff, 550 volunteers and 50 seasonal workers.

Image by Keith Harris. NYMR

The scenic railway stretches for miles through the North York Moors National Park, past idyllically preserved stations familiar from blockbuster films such as Harry Potter and Indiana Jones.

For enthusiasts its draw is “ancient trains in a railway setting”, said Mr Price, who is also vice chairman of the Heritage Railway Association (HRA), while for a young child it may be exploring a Thomas the Tank Engine world. There are many reasons the NYMR may be special, he added, but it resonates as most people return.

Now, despite its popularity as a tourism destination, Mr Price said its most important focus has to be on its people, and a recognition of its purpose.

For its future, he said, it must be “far more charitable than businesslike” in its objectives.

Image by Cameron Telfer. NYMR

'Resilience'

Gone are the days of a popular destination that could rely on routines, replaced with “resilience and ingenuity” and conversations it wasn’t having before.

Key is a recognition of the charity’s carbon footprint, and mitigation measures. It may mean fewer trains, reflected Mr Price, it may mean more of a focus on education for a coming generation that may never lay eyes on coal outside of a museum.

Mr Price said: “We are an organisation that burns carbon – it’s fundamentally what we do.

NYMR. Picture by Charlotte Graham

“With the environmental concerns coming our way, we have to realise that the charitable side of what we do is of unique importance. The railway will continue to be a railway because we achieve our charitable goals, not because more people travel on our trains.”

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Chris Price, general manager at NYMR