Draft trading results just released by the West Somerset Railway (WSR) plc show a profit of £311,217 for the year 2019/20.
This is a complete sea-change for the railway’s financial performance when compared to recent years when the WSR was in steep decline, culminating in a near £800,000 loss for the turbulent year of 2018/19.
But with a determined new Chairman and Board of directors in place, who set about charting a new course for the railway, the situation has been turned around to the good again.
The results are all the more remarkable when compared with the anticipated year-to-date forecasts for the end of March this year, which budgeted for a much smaller profit of £83,823, and which shows that the plc exceeded the budgeted profit for the last financial year by £227,394.
Similarly, the budget forecast a bank balance of £182,000 at the end of March 2020 , but this figure has been massively exceeded by the actual reconciled balance at that date which was £340,000.
While this figure excluded cash held on behalf of other organisations, together with a sum of £100,000 still being held by the plc pending the acquisition of the Bishops Lydeard shop and café, the plc was still some £258,000 ahead of forecast.
Trade creditors were good, too, with an actual of £229,000 against a forecast of £214,000. Debtor balances outstanding were £36,000 against the forecast of £31,000, and these figures clearly illustrate that the company was performing strongly ahead of budget in cash terms.
WSR plc Chairman Jon Jones-Pratt said: “All of this fantastic turnaround in the WSR’s fortunes has been achieved during a 19-month period since September 2018 by the re- invigorated plc Board, our dedicated staff and volunteers, our active support organisations and advisors, plus shareholders, supporters and stakeholders, all of whom are all part of the greater WSR ‘family’ and whose great team efforts have succeeded.
“This is just the sort of confidence booster that we and our supporters needed going forward and proves that we are once more on the right track. Were it not for last year’s good trading figures and profits, the railway simply would not have been able to keep going, and would have gone into liquidation, but we still need more cash, help and support to survive.
“In a normal world, we would now all be busy celebrating this huge achievement and sharing it loudly with our staff and supporters as they have made such a huge contribution to the railway over this last 12 months and we would be looking forward to our new season.
“But we find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic. The railway and all its ancillary activities are closed. We have had no option but to place the majority of our staff on furlough and have now also had to issue at risk of redundancy notices to 42 of our 45 staff and we are doing our utmost to reduce other costs.
“Regrettably, COVID-19 has hit us just as we were about to turn the corner into a brighter future and it now represents the biggest threat to our railway yet seen since the line was closed by British Rail in 1971.
“Each month that passes sees our cash reserves reducing and we are acutely aware that these are running out. That’s why we have had to issue redundancy notices to our loyal staff sadly; are looking at every item of expenditure, and why the emergency funding appeal is so vital.”
There are currently two fundraising appeals in support of the railway which now total £155,732 for both the WSR plc and West Somerset Railway Association – up by just under £23,000 in the last two weeks.
The WSR is aiming to raise £500,000, the amount it estimates will be needed to combat the loss of income during the COVID-19 shutdown.
So far, the WSR plc’s appeal total stands at £130,778, while WSRA Rail Renewal 2020 donations are at £24,954.
Of particular note in the weekly increase was a sizeable donation of £12,000 from Williton Station Group and Friends, including one individual’s contribution of £2,000.