THE East Lancashire Railway (ELR) has received a vital cash boost to help towards safeguarding its future.

The much-loved tourist attraction has been left fighting for its financial survival due to the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The 20km historic line runs from Heywood to Rawtenstall with stations at Bury Bolton Street, Burrs Country Park, Summerseat and Ramsbottom.

The ELR Trust has now provided the heritage railway with a £300,000 interest-free loan to help them get through the remainder of the challenging winter period and provide moral support to its staff and volunteers.

The Trust is a charity made up of four groups of Trustees, including the three local authorities the railway runs through, Bury, Rochdale and Rossendale, and has been overseeing the successful development of the heritage railway for over 30 years.

The cherished railway turned to the Trust, which owns the land and leases the railway line, for support after a tough winter where lockdown measures resulted in an extensive amount of cancelled services and events which have meant that apart from a short few days leading up to Christmas it has been closed since November. The railway was unable to run its much-loved Santa Specials in December due to local coronavirus restrictions depriving it of its most important source of income of the year.

East Lancashire Railway chairman, Mike Kelly, said: “We’re incredibly proud of the timeless experience the ELR provides for hundreds of thousands of visitors a year thanks to our dedicated staff and volunteers.

“However, the coronavirus pandemic has forced us into an extremely challenging financial situation as successive lockdowns and tier restrictions have taken their toll and deprived us of crucial visitor income.

“Restrictions also meant we were unable to run our Santa Special trains, an enormously popular event, which was extremely disappointing, and without this income we were reduced to facing the prospect of bankruptcy.

“As we enter 2021, with no certainty on when we can reopen, significant financial challenges still persist, so we are incredibly grateful for the support from the ELR Trust and this precious lifeline of a timely and generous £300,000 loan, which gives hope for the future.”

Brian Davies, chairman of the ELR Trust, said “Covid-19 has devastated charities like the ELR right across the country. However, for the Trustees there is only one ELR and we will do whatever we can in our power to make sure this beloved railway survives.

“The loss of the railway’s Santa Specials was devastating to the ELR’s sterling fight for survival.

“Throughout the past 12 months, the Trust has been kept fully informed of the huge efforts being made by the staff and volunteers in seeking external support through grants, loans and securing donations. Now it’s our turn to step in and show our support and confidence in the future of the ELR especially, its loyal staff and many hundreds of volunteers.

“The Trustees were very pleased that some of their funds could urgently be made available to get the ELR through these difficult next few months until it can reopen and do what it does best; offering a unique glimpse into a bygone era of the North West’s industrial powerhouse through steam and diesels trains.”

Cllr Jane Black, Cabinet Member for the Cultural Economy at Bury Council, added:“This is great news. The ELR is a marvellous attraction enjoyed by many people of all ages. I hope that this loan will enable the railway to get through the next few months and plan for the future.”