The Watercress line in Hampshire is the latest recipient of government funding from its £1.57 billion Culture Recovery Fund.
A grant of £492,200 will cover three months of staff and vital infrastructure costs at the heritage railway including essential repair work on the track and several bridges.
A previous grant from the same fund helped the railway stay afloat during the pandemic. In particular, keeping staff employed and facilitating the delivery of the successful Steam Illuminations activity during December 2020.
Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, said: “Our record-breaking Culture Recovery Fund has already helped thousands of culture and heritage organisations across the country survive the biggest crisis they’ve ever faced.
“Now we’re staying by their side as they prepare to welcome the public back through their doors – helping our cultural gems plan for reopening and thrive in the better times ahead.”
Simon Baggott, general manager of The Watercress Line, added: “The money that the Culture Recovery Fund for Heritage has injected into the railway has been vital for its survival during the pandemic. It’s not an overstatement to say that it has kept the railway in business and our staff in jobs.
“We’re delighted to have been awarded this grant and excited that we’re able to continue with our mission to preserve part of the country’s railway heritage for generations to come.”
The Watercress line gets its name from its role in transporting the crop to London in the early 20th century. Hampshire’s only standard gauge heritage railway, it runs for 10 miles through the idyllic countryside along the border of the South Downs National Park, between the market towns of Alton and Alresford.
Opened on 2 October 1865 as the Alton, Alresford and Winchester Railway, closed in 1973. However, the line and services were quickly reinstated by a dedicated preservation group and today the Watercress line is one of the south’s premier visitor attractions, attracting 125,000 visitors annually with a turnover in excess of £2 million.