World-first Steam Illuminations puts Watercress Line back on track

January 20, 2021

The world’s first digital LED train delighted over 15,000 visitors with festive fun at one of Hampshire’s premier visitor attractions, the Watercress Line, as well as countless others who saw the magical train travelling through the Hampshire countryside.

The brightly-illuminated passenger steam train created a magical show with more than 13,000 festive lights as it transported visitors of all ages along the tracks from Alresford and Alton.

Passengers wore colour-changing LED wristbands on board the steam train, which was decorated inside and out with thousands of coloured LED lights programmed to flash and change patterns along the route.

With a serving of seasonal music and delicious refreshments, the Watercress Line team created an atmosphere of festive cheer for everybody on the 10-mile round trip.

The popular Steam Illuminations event, which ran from December 4 to 23, was a sell-out event and created a head of steam in the media, reaching an audience of over 61 million people.

Despite COVID-19 tier restrictions which halted the event after Christmas, the colourful light show train rides provided fantastic fun for both families and steam enthusiasts.

The Steam Illuminations event was supported with a £600,000 boost from the government’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Recovery Scheme and a National Lottery Heritage Fund Emergency Scheme grant of £250,000. This enabled the Watercress Line to fund staff costs throughout the winter period after trading revenue was adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

The funding also allowed the railway to install and adapt equipment at the stations and onboard the trains in line with the government’s COVID-19 safety guidelines. These included new screens in carriages, alterations to dining trains, additional signage for visitors and the introduction of a new ticketing system.

The Watercress Line’s General Manager Simon Baggott said: “We are thrilled that our Steam Illuminations event got us on track throughout December, bringing much-needed and well-received festive fun to so many visitors.

“Despite the challenges of the coronavirus tier restrictions and following the government guidelines, we are proud to have been able to go ahead with this unique event – the world’s first digital LED-lit train. It was a delight to welcome so many people of all ages back to the Watercress Line and provide them with a magical experience that they are sure to remember.

“Everyone at the railway is enormously grateful to have been awarded the grants from the government and the National Lottery. Not only has it allowed us to take all the required measures to keep staff, volunteers and visitors safe, it will also give us the funding to maintain the key engineering skills essential to the business and the associated training of young employees.

“We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the Watercress Line this year when, as the lifting of restrictions allows, we have an exciting programme of events planned.”

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