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The East Lancashire Railway (in Lancashire) | A review of The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials

The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials Review

The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials are always popular. But are these Christmas-themed journeys, in Bury (Greater Manchester), worth experiencing? Or is it a poor Polar Express imitation? In this blog post, I give you the lowdown.

What is the East Lancashire Railway?

The East Lancashire Railway is a 20km heritage railway line, where old steam trains run. It is located in North West England and the trains runs between Heywood in Greater Manchester and Rawtenstall in Lancashire.

This visitor attraction, which aims to keep transport heritage alive, is a registered charity, which is ran by over 800 volunteers. As well as the usual train journeys that you’d expect, the team outs on regular special events to help boost revenue.

Heywood is just over 11 miles from central Manchester. You can get the Metrolink between the two, or you can drive and park up at Heywood Station for free.

What are the Santa Specials?

The term ‘Santa Specials’ is used to describe the festive train rides, which take passengers from Bury, through to Rawtenstall and back.

Bury Bolton Street Station is decorated for the annual Santa Specials and people walk through to climb aboard their train. The trains themselves have a real festive atmosphere and you can expect to see a traditional brass band on board, along with carol singers and Father Christmas himself! Father Christmas visits each child and presents them with a gift. You can expect to meet some of Santa’s friendly helpers too; including elves and a magician.

These events take place on selected dates in December. The train times vary, depending on the day. But the earliest train runs at 9:30am and the latest ones leave at around 17:50pm. The last Santa Special train leaves the station on Christmas Eve!

The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials – the cost

The price of this experience varies, depending on when you decide to go. I think this is because the dates closest to Christmas are the most sought after.

You will pay:

  • Between £21 and £25 for adults and children over the age of 3
  • Between £32 and £36 for an adult (with a child under 3 on their knee)

All tickets are subject to an additional transaction fee.

Do you get any extras?

The price includes a present of each child. The gift will be age appropriate and it will come in a East Lancashire Railway drawstring bag.

Refreshments are also included in the price. The kids get a chocolate lolly and a juice. Whilst adults get a mince pie and a festive tipple! There’s also a  Christmas Treasure Hunt at Bury Transport Museum that you can do afterwards, which is included in the price.

Additional advice for these December events

If you want to experience the Santa Specials on the East Lancashire Railway, then book as soon as tickets are released. This experience is super popular and tickets sell out quickly.

You can park at Heywood Station Car Park (OL10 1NH) and get a connecting diesel heritage train to Bury Station. Doing this adds to the experience and makes the day that bit longer. Parking around Bury Bolton Street Station can be tricky too, but if you catch the shuttle, you won’t need to stress about it.

If you decide to park at Heywood, then I’d recommend that you book the Heywood Shuttle.The shuttle costs an extra £1 per adult and an extra 50p per child in you book in advance. Or you can turn up and pay an extra £2 per adult and £1 per child. Just make sure you check the East Lancs Railway website for shuttle times, because you’ll want to ensure that you arrive into Bury with plenty of time to catch your Santa special train.

The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials - a top tip

Should you buy tickets for the family?

This experience is pricey and it’s not something that all families can justify. But you do get a lot for your money with this experience; a present from father Christmas, refreshments, entertainment and a ride on a steam train. I think its a wonderful experience and it’s something I’ll look forward to doing again in the future.

With I’m purchasing these tickets, I always see it as a charity donation. I appreciate that these steam trains are very expensive to run and it’s lovely to be able to experience them. This is something that I hope my family will be able to enjoy for years to come, so for me, it’s important to support the organisation when they put on events such as the Santa Specials.

If you’re questioning if a East Lancs Railway Santa Specials ticket is worth the money, then I’d say it is, providing you have the cash. As a family, we have created some amazing memories during these festive train rides.

Shows a steam train. The East Lancs Railway Santa Specials - a review.

Festive breaks – is it worth booking accommodation if you live quite far away?

If you don’t live locally, but you would like to visit the East Lancs Railway to catch one of the Santa Specials, then you could book a festive break. If this is the main attraction that you’d like to visit, then I’d advise that you look for accommodation in Bury, or neighbouring Bolton.

The North West is a great place to visit in December. Not only can you catch one of these Santa Specials, but you could also do some shopping at Manchester’s Christmas markets, visit RHS Bridgewater Glow, head to Lightopia Manchester, or check out Christmas at Dunham Massey.

If you don’t live near the north west and you’ve not got the cash to justify a break away, then you should see if there’s an alternative Santa train ride operating near you.


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in March 2021 and has been revamped for accuracy and comprehensiveness.