I have been following the steady progress of Helston Railway online for several years. Watched on their Facebook page as sections of track were re-laid, buildings renovated and signs re-painted. It has been wonderful seeing this line being brought back to life and each year I have been saying to myself that I should go and visit. At last I have got around to it and I am so delighted that I did!
The line was originally 8.5 miles long from Gwinear Road to Helston town but like so many of the UK’s rural branch lines was closed in the 1960s. The Helston line carried it last passengers in 1962. In 1965 the track was dismantled and all that remained was the bridges and the faint trace of the line cut into the landscape.
Then in 2002 a group of like-minded individuals formed the Helston Railway Preservation Society and the slow task of bringing this track back to life began in earnest in 2005. A year later Network Rail donated 2000 sleepers to the project and soon after the first section of track was laid 120 years after the line was originally opened.
Since then it has taken a great deal of hard work and fund raising to get to where the railway is today and the first passengers were welcomed in 2011 on the old diesel shunted and brake van.
However, 2018 has been a particularly exciting year as Helston Railway has celebrated the return of their first steam engine. And as we all know there is nothing quite like the sight, sounds and smells of riding on a steam train!
What to expect
The first thing that impressed me about my visit was how friendly and helpful the staff were. From the chap manning the car park to the ticket inspector and the engine drivers, everyone went out of their way to make us feel welcome and to make our day special. The railway is run entirely by volunteers, people who are passionate about the rejuvenation of the line, and it shows!
The staff were also full of lots of interesting information about the line and GWR as a whole. For example, did you know that the Helston line was originally intended to go all the way to the Lizard Point?
There is a short walk from the car park to the carriage selling tickets and souvenirs and a few steps to climb on to the platform. There is also a stationary buffet carriage where you can get a proper cup of tea and a bacon bap while you wait for your departure.
The locomotive is the ‘Kilmersdon‘ and it is on long term loan to the railway. This summer is the first time it has been used to pull passengers here and I have to say the engine was wonderful to see in action!
The journey itself winds through just over a mile of beautiful countryside with great views. The track as it stands runs for just over a mile and the ride lasts for about half an hour each way I think.
At Truthall Halt passengers can alight from the train for about 15 minutes to have a look around and have a chat with the Station Master before the return journey.
When to visit
The railway is open all year round on Sundays and Thursdays, although there are more services during the summer months. Check the timetable for when the steam train is running as it is not used for every service.
December sees the Santa Specials, a touch of nostalgic Christmas fun with the chance to see Santa in his grotto!
An adult return trip costs £8 but it is great to know that every penny of that goes back into the railway and there are exicting plans for taking the track further in the near future.