Forums » Community Rail events

Who's got Santa Claus visiting this year?

    • 20 posts
    October 19, 2015 9:25 AM BST

    Title says it all, really ;-)

    The Melksham Railway Development Group - the station team for Melksham on the TransWilts - has run an event every year but one for the past 18 years - long before the CRP was formed, and back to the "bad old days" where great ingenuity was required to find a suitable out and back trip to anywhere, at any part of the week.     Over the years, we've had everything from a class 143 pacer to - one memorable year - an HST.  This year, our regular Sunday single car 153 will be doubled up on Sunday, 13th December and Santa will be making 2 or 3 round trips.   I've only just got confirmation of the strengthening, so can't point you at pubicity for a few hours.

    What do YOU do on your Santa trips?   We have a well oiled machine, but would love to update some of the features!

  • October 20, 2015 9:48 AM BST

    We've had mixed results with Christmas events to be honest.

    The staff at Plymouth station organise their own event on the Tamar Valley Line on a couple of weekends leading up to Christmas which they charge for and usually are fully booked almost immediately. Whereas last year on the Looe Valley Line we had Father & Mother Christmas and Reindeer (me!!) on the Looe Valley Line, giving away gifts with no extra charge other than your ticket and we hardly saw anyone.

    Would be interesting to hear how you do it or anyone else who has run successful events to see what the magic formula might be.

    Photo of me in reindeer suit attached for your (everyone's amusement!).

    This post was edited by Rebecca Catterall at October 20, 2015 9:49 AM BST
    • 22 posts
    October 20, 2015 10:27 AM BST

    We are a small community-orientated Friends Group in Mytholmroyd along the Calder Valley Line in West Yorkshire. For the last five years we have had a 'carol sing' involving our primary schools in close co-operation with Northern Rail, and our local hostelries.

    It's been a fantastic success; the group sing for home coming passengers at Mytholmroyd, we then board the next train for Sowerby Bridge, the youngsters sing their hearts out for the bemused passengers, to be met by Father Christmas on the platform at S/Bridge - lots of singing then all pile into the 'Jubilee Rooms' for goodies and singing and meeting Santa before returning to Mytholmroyd and the Shoulder of Mutton where the parents are waiting for their charges. The whole event is lovely, lasts a couple of hours - thanks to Northern, the teachers, singers and all our members and supporters; and of course Father Christmas (aka Paul)

    • 20 posts
    October 24, 2015 5:48 PM BST

    Here's the publicity I mentioned at the top ... also at



    • 20 posts
    November 15, 2015 6:20 PM GMT

    A very interesting follow up this year ... for the first time that I can recall, our Santa trip's not been selling like hotcakes, in spite of us sticking quite close to the old formula.   Been scratching my head as to why (as well as putting a litlte more promotion out there), and I've come up with a theory that in the past the trip has been a novelty for people who've not really used trains but are willing to try them.  But with our markeing and increase in passenger numbers, perhaps the people who would have come in the past are now making use of the trains at other times through the year ... just a theory; thoughts welcome.

    • 24 posts
    November 18, 2015 10:00 AM GMT

    Hope the extra promotion does the trick, Graham. Perhaps another factor is just that with a finite number of people in the local area, some feel a sense of "been there, done that" about the Santa train as an event - although if that were the case, you might expect more of a gradual decline over a few years, rather than a more sudden drop off, so your theory may well be right.


    On another note, here's a little banner we're doing for the Avocet Line to promote additional Sunday services in the run-up to Christmas:


  • November 19, 2015 1:13 PM GMT

    Maybe because it has been so mild Graham, people haven't been thinking about Christmas yet. We're supposed to have a cold snap this weekend so it may be the time to do some targeted social media posts? Have you got any nice images of the line/area covered in snow?

    • 1 posts
    November 28, 2015 11:53 AM GMT

    Crewkerne Station Open Day Saturday 5 December with a Christmas theme.

    Santa will visit at 10.49.

    • 20 posts
    November 28, 2015 2:30 PM GMT

    Santa is planned with modern things like risk assessments, backup strategies, etc ... with risks including train delays and cancellation, low booking numbers, santa feeling unwell, unbooked children being on the same train.  And over the years these things happen - last year, a signal failure delayed the service into Swindon so the layover in which Santa was to see the children in the "Grotto" (2nd waiting room!) disappeared. So - we actually have no problem even if we're somewhat lighter on numbers - the finances stack up and indeed we have the ultimate abiity to refund and stock presents until next year if the train gets cancelled; we then have a potential damage limitation exercise in the local press and social media, but that's another story.  Rather I'm interested in why it's been significantly slower to book this year - my earlier comments.

    If - five years ago on Thursday - I had gone down to Melksham Station at a quarter past 4 in the afternoon, I would have found a deserted platform.  An old bus shelter.  A couple of notice boards giving train times Portsmouth to Cardiff which if I looked at carefully I would find that at 16:15 I had missed the soutbound train at 06:38 and the northbount train at 07:19, and that my next train was at 19:20 southbound or 19:48 northbound.  A dark blue box with a button marked "information" sometimes worked to make a phone call and play a recorded message to say that no trains were dur within the next 99 minutes.  I'm desribing a service which wasn't suitable for the typical town resident to use - even if they knew about it.

    I went down to the station at around a quarter past 4 on the Thursday just gone. There were people round ... as they arrived, they checked the departure screen and some bought tickets from the machine, then waited on the platform, in the new, larger, lit shelter, in the enclosed cycle rack area (which doubles as another shelter, and - on time at around 16:30 a single car train rolls in.  4 people got off, 10 people got on and the train left with 43 passengers on board.   And I know that when it arrives on its return call (at 18:03) it will be full and standing - approaching "wedged".

    With our improved service, people are now travelling by train - and in good numbers both off peak and peak, for both leisure and commuting (and business) journeys. There's a lot of puchchairs and children on the services at holiday times, weekends, and during the day - and I'll wager that many of these people are those who (or who's community) almost never used the train in past years, and from whom the group who were tempted by a train journey from this own town to see Santa was drawn.  As such, it's no bad thing at all - lovely having these people able to share and use the trains 363 days a year rather than just one ... just a need to do a bit more marketing of Santa than in the past. With the bonus that the Santa publicity can now remind people they have a useful service o other days too ...

    I'm tempted NOT to grab out the snowy pictures which are all now pre-improvement (but thanks for that thought) - rather I have just turned the power up a notch or two on the marketing which has always been rather subdued to avoid oversubscription.  My risk anaysis for an overcrowded platform at Melksham station especially is a bit of a frightener which we, our TOC, and I hope others who may stop heritage trains there, are fully aware of.




    This post was edited by Graham Ellis at November 28, 2015 2:34 PM GMT
    • 22 posts
    November 30, 2015 4:26 PM GMT

    Mytholmroyd Station Partnership enjoyed a 'dummy' run last week when Geoff,(heavily disguised at Father Christmas) made his debut appearance at Manchester Piccadilly Station at the Community Craft Fair, organised and run by Sally Buttifant - she and Paul, the Railway Doctor worked together at break neck speed to arrange all this with Net Work Rail - thanks to all concerned for a fabulous event.

    It was simply lovely; where the many craft stalls mingled with Rail Company Reps, with an excellent showing from the Voluntary Sector; informative hand-outs, freebies in the form of bags,pins brooches were snapped up by the travellers who also appreciated the delicious cakes/biscuits/sweets and gifty things on sale.

    Santa's debut appearance will not be repeated by him, rather he's handing over to Jeffrey, one of our supporters of Mytholmroyd Station Partnership to carry on his good work. 

    Chris Ingham, Station Manager, Northern Rail has put together a great evening's entertainment on Dec 7th when the young singers from our 3 local primary schools will perform for us on the train to Sowerby Bridge, where Santa will greet them and hear all their hopes and wishes before returning by rail to Mytholmroyd. Here they'll serenade us again in the Shoulder of Mutton Pub where waiting parents will collect their children. Tired but happy - and a good start to the festive season.

    Keep your fingers crossed for dry weather - very prone to flooding in this neck of the woods. Photo by Paul Salveson

    This post was edited by sue mitchell at November 30, 2015 6:18 PM GMT
    • 22 posts
    December 9, 2015 11:06 AM GMT

    Following on from our 'dummy' run on Manchester Piccadilly's amazing station entrance hall, Mytholmroyd Station Partnership had their own annual Christmas Carol 'Singalongtheline' involving 40 children from the three local primary schools (academies!).

    It was wonderful - we started at Mytholmroyd Station,naturally, then by Train to Sowerby Bridge approximately seven minutes away, so this involved a fair amount of organisation for us and our helpers to get the children safely aboard and away in the statutary time of 30 secs. But we did well, and it was then straight into the Jubilee Rooms at Sowerby Bridge, run by brothers Chris and Andrew Wright, to be greeted by that most popular of men FATHER CHRISTMAS! With a sack full of goodies -the main constituent of this sack was of copies of'The Railway Children' for each child, kindly donated by Chris Ingham, Station Manager Northern Rail. These books were all in individual bags that I had cheekily asked for from FirstTransPennine when we did our stint at Manchester Piccadilly! They were all so very excited, thrilled even; and we had more singing to the obvious enjoyment of Chris and his customers. Many thanks Chris - thanks also, Sheena and Jeffrey(FC) for all the the hard work (was very warm behind the beard).

    Back on the train to Mytholmroyd to our local, The Shoulder of Mutton, where managers Owen and Lisa greeted them with mince pies and a warm welcome as the children greeted their parents - chaos reigned for a while as the details were explored by all.

    After the exodus of the little stars, members of the Partnership were treated to supper of pie and peas (and mint sauce) -and very good it was; our appreciation and thanks to Pete MyersStakehold Manager and Chris of Norther Rail, Lisa and Sue and Owen for a great event.

    • 22 posts
    December 9, 2015 11:52 AM GMT

    And another thing....we were lucky to include amongst our guests on Monday, Paul Bigland internationally-known rail photographer, together with Dawn Wolrich from ACoRP who, like me, was overwhelmed by the attractiveness and liveliness of the children. Somehow I got into the subject of 'ages' of the children - and got it hopelessly wrong in Kasey's case - I said she was six, she was mortified - as was I; she's nine.

    But then she got it wrong as well - she said I was in my forties - could have kissed her! but we high-fived and all was well.

    All pictures are Paul Bigland's - thank you Paul.


    • 20 posts
    December 15, 2015 11:24 AM GMT

    Lovely picture and event(s), Sue ... and great to see the children.   We've been asked not to take pictures of small groups of children or those in which they are signifcantly featured without permission and we now tend to limit our own pictures - wonder if you've had an issue with this?  I wil though be posting our follow up report with a couple of "generl" picture in a minute.

    • 20 posts
    December 15, 2015 11:26 AM GMT

    A couple of pictures from a successful Santa trip on Sunday ... a platform that was comfortably crowded, a 153 that was (on two runs) filled with guests attached to the regular train, and just under a dozen volunteers during the day - for both trips with Santa, and for passenger counts being conducted in parallel on all 5.5 return trips. And with the numbers of childen we had, just about perfect for Santa to see them all without having to either rush or dally.

    For us, the surrounding publicity and getting newcomers to use the train (and do so again) is just as important as the even itself - and little things confirmed to me that many of our customers on Sunday were new to train travel and to Melksham station where we started from. Our main station car park is separated from the station by one other property, and standing at the entrance directing traffic in it was clearly somewhere that most of them had never been before. Many people 'amused' by single door operation as the platform isn't long enough for 2 x 153. And again - many people delighted with the ticket wallets and minitimetables we were handing out on the return journey; a colurful and informative message to use the train - and the parallel bus services - right through to next May.

    Presents provided by the local Toy Shop in Melksham, who are given free reign within a budget to select the right toys based on age and gender - they give us a good price, they know children far better than I / we do, and I suspect it helps them sell a final few odd toys at the end of batches that are looking lonely on their shelves. Santa helpd all around!

    A big "thank you" to the Melksham TIC for selling the tickets, to the local press for the publicity, to Lisa for doing the posters, tickets, and booking sheets ... and also the ticket wallets, 2 year celebration cards and minitimetables themselves. Special mention for Peter and Margaret too, who donated adult drinks, and ran the "buffet" with them (hard on a 153!). And thanks to the whole team on the train, and to Great Western Railway for the extra carriage.



    Facebook after the event recorded a number of "Thank you"s and that really helps make it worthwhile. Alas, there was also a single expression of disappointment (which the author must have thought better of because it was soon deleted) - but that certainly acts as a reminder that we should always be checking our publicity to make sure we're not overselling, and that we have the best product available. At 10 pounds a head (adult) and 5 pound (children), with a 4 pound presnt budget, minced pies, soft drinks, train tickets ... we simply can't afford to hire a steam train, and health and safety preclude cab visits, taking over the tannoy system, or decorating the train in a way that could interfere with its operation of its return to normal service after the event. I have explained the issues to our brief critical complainer, explained the issues and invited her to help / bring along fresh ideas next year, when we'll probably run Santa on the final Sunday of our 3 year trial service.

    • 24 posts
    December 15, 2015 12:55 PM GMT

    Well done all, sounds like it was a big success - and that the publicity paid off in the end. 

    • 22 posts
    December 16, 2015 5:45 PM GMT

    Hello, Graham, in response to your query regarding childrens' photographs - when we first started our involvement with the 4 schools in the area, we asked each head of School whether it would be OK to take and publish photos of said youngsters. We are assured that the attendees'parents/guardians are aware of our projects and use of any photographic material, and we've have had no problems - other than one child whose mother did object and she was not in the subsequent photographs. A bit of a shame for the child, but that's today's society isn't it?

    Any 'new' projects we always make sure that there is parental permission; this is a verbal agreement, perhaps we should go a bit further and have a form for them to sign - something we should discuss at our next meeting, perhaps.

    Your Santa train' sounds amazing - what a lot of organisation for you all, well done. And brilliant getting the one critic on your side - I love treating the negative with the positive - hopefully you've got another volunteer there!

    • 17 posts
    December 16, 2015 8:26 PM GMT

    hi Sue and all

    If you'd like to email me at I'd be happy to share with you a form I did for a photocall of the launch of our Minibeast Trail at a Surestart Dad's group to get parents' permission. I have found that when working with schools at events, free train trips etc we are covered by the permissions the schools have got. However sometimes the schools will only let teachers take the photos and we don't put photos of primary aged children on Facebook. 

    We had a really successful Santa Special on the Riviera Line last year and I verbally asked the parents for permission for their children to be included in photos the Great Western photographer or our volunteer photographer took. I arranged a couple of families to feature in the publicity in advance including a family who won free tickets and our Minibeast Trail artist who was one of our special guests with her parents and children.

    Congratulations on your events by the way and great photos!

    • 20 posts
    December 18, 2015 4:16 PM GMT

    Not being one to miss an opportunity, Santa's nor helping us to advertise our new mini-guide and the holiday time trains - reminding people they can get to the sales at the Outlet Centre in Swindon by train right through from 27th December


    On the parent permission, many thanks for the comments.  As pubclicly sold tickets, prior approval for groups is a bit tricky - for next year, I'll think ahead a bit better and make sure I ask a family or two.   Interesting to note that our local council found it difficult to get people on the train to take part in their publicity video ...