Ideal gift for steam millionaire

WHAT should Santa Claus give the millionaire steam enthusiast who has everything?The answer could be his own full-sized railway. One of the best-known steam lines in East Anglia could be coming up for sale early in the new year.

WHAT should Santa Claus give the millionaire steam enthusiast who has everything?

The answer could be his own full-sized railway. One of the best-known steam lines in East Anglia could be coming up for sale early in the new year.

The owner of the Colne Valley Railway, which operates about a mile of track at Castle Hedingham just over the border in Essex, is considering putting the whole operation on the market.

And if the volunteers who currently help him run it can't come up with enough money to buy the tourist attraction, the whole railway may be offered for sale with a seven-figure price tag.

Dick Hymas and his wife Jane founded the railway about 30 years ago.

It was built on part of the route of the original Colne Valley Railway which ran from Chappel, on the Sudbury branch, to Haverhill through Halstead.

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The line closed to passengers in 1961 and was lifted five years later - but in the mid-1970s Mr and Mrs Hymas rebuilt a section of the track.

Since then it has become a popular tourist attraction - but Mr Hymas felt it now needed to be taken over by new blood.

He said: "We're not getting any younger, I'm 61, and we feel it is right for the railway to be taken on by someone - or a group - who will be able to take things forward.

"The Colne Valley Railway is now well established and it is ready for further development."

Mr Hymas said members of the Colne Valley Railway Preservation Society, which does much of the work at the line, had been aware that he was considering selling for some time.

"We've been talking about this for about five years, but now is the time to take some action.

"We've asked the preservation society to let us know by the end of the year whether they want to bid to buy the railway - if not it will go on the market."

Mr Hymas said there was wide scope to develop the railway as a major tourist attraction.

It already has full planning permission for the development of a major outdoor museum - including the construction of a Victorian street.

And that could provide the catalyst for a major expansion of the railway - including a possible four-mile line to Halstead.

"To some extent we have wondered if our presence has been holding back the development of the railway," said Mr Hymas.

"This could be really good news for the future of the railway - giving it the chance to really reach its potential in the future," he added.

At present the railway is in the middle of its popular "Santa Special" season when children and their families can take a ride behind a steam engine while meeting Father Christmas and giving him their requests for the big day.

It is also a popular attraction for school trips, giving children from throughout south Suffolk and north Essex the chance to learn about industrial history in an exciting way.

"Whatever happens about the ownership of the railway, I'm sure it has a very good future ahead of it," said Mr Hymas.

Have you visited the Colne Valley Railway? What did you think of it? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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