Volunteers who raise funds for the Evelina Children’s Hospital by running a miniature railway have been hit by the closure of the Lavender Line because of Covid-19.
The Lavender Line has not opened at all this year and is not scheduled to open now until Easter 2021 and so the fund-raisers are looking for alternative ways of continuing their support for the hospital.
They have launched a Crowfunder appeal and hope people will help them reach their £3,000 target.
This is slightly more than the record £2,984 raised through fares and donations last year at Riley’s Miniature Railway, which is based at the Lavender Line, Isfield.
Graham Lelliott, one of a small group of dedicated volunteers who run and operate the five-inch gauge miniature railway, which carries children and adult, said they were “deeply saddened” they could not continue their work this year.
And they were pinning their hopes on the Crowfunder helping to plug the gap.
The miniature railway is a not for profit venture where 100% of fares – 50p per person – and donations are sent to the Evelina Children’s Hospital.
Passengers get a free souvenir ticket and sticker and the driver often lets younger visitors wave the green flag.
One of the miniature locomotives takes the train out of the station, past a loco/carriage shed, and over points to the sidings where other miniature locomotives are resting, on display for visitors to see.
Passing a signal box the driver prompts passengers to look to see who is asleep just inside the window – many think they are looking at a real cat curled up.
The train continues its journey past a second loco/carriage shed and over another set of points to a siding where there’s more track space for visiting locomotives.
Here you can watch out for a real steam train or heritage diesel on the big railway alongside, then a friendly Robin can often be seen as the train travels up to and over a girder bridge.
Next there’s s short tunnel and the train navigates a passing loop. On busy days, another miniature train can be waiting here for a train to pass.
Towards the end of the line the railway’s turntable and third loco/carriage shed comes into view. The train travels over the line’s latest extension, curves to the right, and then to the left, before coming to a stop at the current northern terminus.
With the loco at the front there’s a family photo opportunity and then the return journey begins via the passing loop by mean of spring loaded points.
This sends the train down the opposite side of the passing loop before rejoining the main line.
Back at the Evelina Junction station souvenirs are on offer including postcards, keyring, badges, fridge magnets, colouring-in sheets, and posters.
Notices are displayed to show how much was raised in the last year, how people can get involved in volunteering and how people with their own locomotives and bring them along.
Graham said there is a vast collection of locomotives, mainly diesel outline, which run on two 12 volt car batteries producing 24 volts. He added: “Don’t be fooled by these little locomotives, they are very powerful and can haul several adults and children.”
He said real steam engines visit occasionally and attract a lot of interest. “Extra care obviously has to be taken in this case regarding safety as real steam engines are hot, oily, and sooty.
“Locomotive types in use can be of a freelance design, or scale models of real locomotives, the prototypes of which range from various stages in railway history, right up to modern day locomotives.”
He continued: “The railway relies on a dedicated team of volunteers, however this number can pretty much be counted on one hand.
“Some able to offer more time than others, and its fair to say, more help would not go amiss as there is actually a lot to do, ranging from track work, such as replacing sleepers, rail and ballasting, but also other things such as painting, gardening and locomotive and passenger stock maintenance, etc.
“Riley’s Miniature Railway also has its very own portable railway, in which many sections of raised track make up a generous length to take to various country and steam shows in the South East throughout the year, such as the Weald of Kent at Woodchurch and Tractorfest at Biddenden, both in Kent.
“Again, all fares and donations collected are sent to the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London.
“The miniature railway has its own Facebook page which is updated regularly and is a vital tool to share operating days, updates, to contact, to like, to share, and to see what events we are attending with our portable railway.
“Several videos can also be found on YouTube and we have been featured in a few magazines, all of this has helped to get the word about in hope further visitors will visit and support us.”
• Riley’s Miniature Railway was set up by Larry and Sandra Lewis as a way of thanking the Evelina Children’s Hospital for the constant care received by their grandson Riley who was born with six separate heart defects.
It is one of the few, ground level, five inch gauge railways open to the public in the UK and considered to be the smallest practical ride on track gauge.