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A scene on a heritage railway. An ex-British Railways 4MT 2-6-4T tank engine takes on water at Bishops Lydeard station on the West Somerset Railway, Somerset, England.
Stepney on the Bluebell railway, one of the first preserved in Britain

A heritage railway (United Kingdom and Australia), preserved railway (United Kingdom and Australia), tourist railway (Australia), or tourist railroad (United States and Canada) is a term used for a railway which is run as a tourist attraction, is usually but not always run by volunteers, and often seeks to re-create railway scenes of the past (some Tourist railways are not necessarily heritage railways). See List of heritage railways.

Historic heavy and light rail

Heritage railways are usually railway lines which were once run as commercial railways, but were later no longer needed or were closed down, and were taken over or re-opened by volunteers or for-profit organisations. Many run on partial routes unconnected to the commercial railway network, all run only seasonally, and charge high "entertainment" fares. For example the return fare from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog on the 13 mile Festiniog railway is some £(UK)17.95 and between Caernarfon to Beddgelert £(UK)22.00 on the Welsh Highland Railway. As a result they are primarily, indeed exclusively, focused on serving the tourist and leisure markets, not local transportation needs. However in the 1990s and 2000s some heritage railways have professed to provide local transportation and to extend their running seasons to cater for commercial passenger traffic. In the United Kingdom, however, no heritage railways offer a year round daily or commuter service.

Typically a heritage railway will use steam locomotives and original rolling stock to create a supposed "period atmosphere", although some are now concentrating on more recent "modern image" diesel and electric traction suposedly to re-create the post-steam railway era.

The first heritage railway to be rescued and run entirely by volunteers was the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. This narrow gauge line, taken over by a group of enthusiasts in 1950, is recognised as the start of the preservation movement. There are now several hundred heritage railways in the United Kingdom. This large number is due in part to the closure of many minor lines in the 1960s under the Beeching Axe. These were relatively easy to revive. The first such standard gauge line to be preserved was the Bluebell Railway, though the Middleton Railway (which was not a victim of Beeching) had been preserved prior to this. The world's second preserved railway, and the first outside the United Kingdom, was the Puffing Billy Railway in Australia. This railway operates 24 km of track with much of the original rolling stock built as early as 1898.

Heritage railways differ in the intensity of the service that can be offered. Some of the more successful British heritage railways, such as the Severn Valley Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, may have up to five or six steam engines working, operating a four-train service daily. The Great Central Railway is the only example of a preserved British main line that operates with a double track, and can operate over 50 trains on a busy gala timetable. Other smaller railways may run for seven-days-a-week throughout the summer with only one steam engine. However, following the privatisation of Britain's main-line railways, the line between not-for-profit heritage railways and for-profit branch lines may appear to have blurred. The Wensleydale Railway is an example of a commercial line run partly as a heritage operation and partly (at least in intent, if not in reality) to provide local transportation. The Weardale Railway is a similar attempt to provide a commercial heritage line, so far with mixed success. The Severn Valley Railway has even operated a few goods trains on a commercial basis. In addition, a number of heritage lines now see regular freight operations. The Puffing Billy Railway operates a busier service than it regularly did in its pre-preservation working life.

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