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3803 near Hood Bridge
GWR 2-8-0 3803 near Hood Bridge August 2008

The scenic South Devon Railway (SDR) enjoyed a record breaking 40th anniversary year in 2009 carrying 107,985 passengers over the seven mile route which runs down the glorious valley of the River Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes.

After the last Mince Pie special trains ran on 31 December, the railway's managers totalled up the year's passenger figures which shewed that 99,591 adults and children, plus another 8,394 children aged under five, rode the line in 2009 to make it a fitting end to a great 40th Birthday season.

Achieving over 100,000 passengers for the second time in three years is a major milestone for the largely volunteer run line, being an increase of 8.99% on the 2008 total of 99,073 passengers, and also well up on the previous record figure set in 2007 of 100,449 visitors.

In previous years, the SDR has not counted the under fives (who travel free) in its passenger figures but it wanted to know the scale of its family market, so the information is doubly useful, although the like-for-like figures also shew an increase on the 2008 total as anticipated.

The impressive figures show that the former Great Western Railway branch line is going from strength to strength as one of Britain's oldest heritage steam railways having first opened in 1969.

The SDR has painstakingly recreated the "Golden Age of Steam" over the ex GWR branch line which was first closed to passengers 52 years ago in 1958 before the infamous Beeching axe swung in the 1960's and shut down many rural routes across the South West.

Passing through some of the West Country's most delightful rural scenery, the SDR prides itself on the quality of its heritage experience and literally transporting visitors back in time to the heyday of the old GWR, a fact recognised by Ian Allan Publishing's judges in awarding it the prestigious title of "Heritage Railway of the Year" in 2007.

South Devon Railway Chairman Alan Taylor said: "We're all thrilled that 2009 has proven to be our best year ever with a record number of passengers and a truly memorable 40th anniversary season which saw ten different GWR engines running on the line.

"We have achieved these great milestones by broadening the SDR's nostalgic appeal to visitors of all ages, providing better visitor facilities and promoting the railway as a great day out along with our linked attractions at the award winning Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and Buckfast Butterfly & Otter Sanctuary.

"We know that our visitors come back again and again to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of steam in the Devon countryside and this nostalgic and most relaxing form of transport - we even had marriage proposals from two couples travelling with us over during our latest Santa and Mince Pie trains!

"The SDR operates nearly all year round and we have a number of great special events to look forward to in 2010, starting with February Half Term week."

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