The railway is operated by the City of Sunderland Model Engineering Society, but speaking to the Echo last month, society secretary Peter Russell said it appeared to be nearing the end of the line in due to the aging demographic of members, who were no longer able to help in person and soaring energy costs.
Peter, 75, said: ‘The railway costs on average around £2,500 a year to run. Over the past two years we have suffered losses of £4,000 and this year it seems to be even more which is simply not sustainable.
However, the operation of the railway appears to be back on track after an article in the Echo highlighted the precarious situation of the much-loved attraction which has seen Peter ‘inundated with offers of support’ .
Peter said: ‘We have had hundreds of books donated by people from all over, including two former residents of Sunderland who now live in London and Wales who remembered taking the trains as children and didn’t want to see them disappear.
“I was very worried about our future, but things look much more positive now.”
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The railway offers free rides but relies on donations as one of its main sources of revenue – which has also declined as the cost of living crisis began to bite and people “have less ‘money in their pockets’.
Society member John Maw, 62, said: ‘It just seems like there are more people coming in and willing to donate generously. All I can think of is that people saw the article in the Echo and realized that this is a local attraction that they don’t want to see go away and they want support her.
“People remember taking the trains as kids and generations going back to their grandparents did the same and decided we couldn’t let this go.”
Just as important as the financial donations was the recruitment of six new volunteers to help spread the workload of train driving, engine and track maintenance and company management.
One is Steve Wright, 59, who said: “I was on holiday in Sorrento, Italy and had just settled in with a glass of wine when I read the article on the site. Echo’s Web and thought I had to help.
“I remember going to Roker Park as a child to catch the trains. My parents did the same and now I bring my grandchildren. It has been there for generations and we need to make sure it remains for future generations.
“I really enjoyed it. Initially I came to help with maintenance, but I was working in finance and I also help with accounts.”
New signing Tom Turner, 65, added: “I’ve always wanted to be involved in something like this. I have an interest in trains and when I saw the article in the Echo I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get involved and give back to the community.
“It’s great to see the smiles on the faces of the children as they get off the trains – it’s magical.”
One of the largest donations came from the Rotary Club of Sunderland, which donated £250 for general maintenance of the railway and £100 to purchase meadow turf to improve the surroundings of the way.
After enjoying a train ride, club chairman Peter Dunn, 73, said: ‘It was a real blast from the past as over 60 years ago I rode this track when I was a child. It’s a cause we wanted to support because it would be really sad if the railway disappeared for future generations.
Club secretary Philip Tweddel, 71, said: “I remember riding the railway as a child and now bringing down my own grandchildren. As a club, we like to support these types of community projects and we thought it was important that future generations could continue to enjoy the model railway.
With fiancés now boosted and the addition of new volunteers, he seems to be full steam ahead towards a brighter future.
Peter said: “We can now look to the future with confidence and that has given me a lot of relief. The attendance and support has really increased and I can only put that down to the article in the Echo which brought people’s attention to our situation.
The railway is always looking for additional volunteers and financial support. Anyone wishing to help should email Peter at [email protected] or contact the company via its Facebook page.