THE Severn Valley Railway is starting its jubilee year with a new general manager at the helm.

Helen Smith, who is the first woman to hold the role, has taken over from Nick Ralls, who left to join the Ironbridge Gorge Museums Trust as chief executive.

Helen's most recent role was deputy director at the Tank Museum, Bovington in Dorset, and she has also worked as general manager at The Fusilier Museum in Bury and operations director at the Magna Science Adventure Centre in Rotherham.

The appointment comes as the SVR celebrates the 50th anniversary of its official opening in preservation - and Helen says she intends to make it a memorable one for the railway and the thousands of visitors it is set to welcome on board.

“The SVR is an incredibly important attraction for the region and I am thoroughly looking forward to building on the great work that has already been achieved by the team here,” she said.

“Taking on the role in this very special year for the railway has even more resonance for me and I can’t wait to lead it into a very bright future, ensuring that it is a fabulous place to work, visit and volunteer.”

Nick Paul, chair of the SVR Holdings Board, said: “I am delighted that Helen has agreed to join us.

"The decision to appoint her was a unanimous one involving the boards of both the Holdings and Guarantee Company.

“We are confident that she will build on the strong foundations laid by her predecessor Nick Ralls, and lead us forward on our journey.”

Yorkshire-born and bred, Helen relocated to the area from Dorset before Christmas to enable her to experience the Railway during the festive season - its busiest time of year.

A weekend of jubilee celebrations is planned for May 23 to 25 and more details are set to be announced in the coming weeks.

The Railway is currently closed for its annual maintenance programme and will reopen in the February half-term.