THE owner of Poole Park’s miniature railway says he is “devastated” that the attraction will be closed while the council invites new operators to take over the business.
In less than two months’ time, the railway will be dismantled in preparation for a tendering process for the contract to begin.
Current owner Chris Bullen aims to be among those bidding for the railway, which will have to be rebuilt to current health and safety requirements when it re-opens.
This would see the whole railway track replaced, with new fencing erected around it, according to Mr Bullen. The attraction opened in 1949, many years before current health and safety legislation was introduced.
Mr Bullen said it was “ludicrous” that he is being ‘forced to tender for his own business’. If he is successful, he will have to spend £200,000 to rebuild the railway. But he maintains that, as the current operator, he is in the best position to re-open the railway in the shortest period.
“I bought the railway in 2004 and, over the years, have invested in new carriages and trains – all of which have been built to Poole Park’s peculiar needs. We have never had a public liability claim. We had one incident last year, which involved a derailment caused by a malicious act.
“Although we haven’t got a huge amount of money, we could have made the improvements piecemeal over the next few years. If someone new comes in, it’s going to be a big expense to rebuild it. You can’t just buy the rail, sleepers, carriageways, and trains off the shelf. It took six years for us to get our trains made.
“The council are saying that by March 1, we have to have the railway track lifted and all the trains and carriages removed so they can then go to tender with a blank canvas. If we wish to tender, we will have to replace the track and spend another £30,000 fencing it. It’s an awful lot of work.”
He continued: “I’m saddened that this has been sprung on me and it will mean the railway won’t run for its 2017 season while the council are selecting other tenders. It is the main feature of the park.
Chris, who calls himself the ‘custodian’ of the railway is now generating as much public support and funding as he can and aims to hold a public meeting, inviting people to put forward their ideas for the future of the railway.
“When we give our tender, along with our ideas, we can say the people of Poole gave their input. That’s much better than inviting an investor. This railway is not about the money, it’s an important part of Poole’s history. We’d like to replace the track to meet current safety standards so the people of Poole have got it for the next 70 years.
Anthony Rogers, recreation manager for Borough of Poole, said: “The tenancy agreement with the current operator of the miniature railway in Poole Park has now ended. The railway is a much-loved feature of Poole Park, therefore the council is keen to secure its future for many years to come. We will shortly be inviting proposals from experienced operators to secure the necessary investment to develop this popular attraction.”