UNPRECEDENTED numbers of people trying to book seats on the 'coronavirus safe' Christmas train has forced operators to temporarily close bookings - but don't panic, booking will reopen at 10am today and tickets are still available.

In a first for Swanage Railway, Steam and Lights will run on 10 selected days with two evening trains a day in the build-up to Christmas.

An event spokesman said: "Swanage Railway has been totally overwhelmed by the level of interest in our Steam and Lights trains, the level of bookings has been unprecedented.

"With this in mind I would like to apologise to those who have found it difficult to book on line or get through to our reservations team and thank the many of you who have persevered and made a booking.

"I would like to reassure those who would like to experience Steam and Lights, and have not yet booked, that there is still good availability of seats.

"The reason why we have had to close bookings from time to time is to give us time to allocate bookings to seats to ensure that we comply with social distancing for the safety of all our guests, volunteers and staff.

"Once we have done this we know how many more seats we can release on each train to take it to our restricted social distancing capacity which is around 70 per cent of normal capacity.

"Four days have proved to be the most popular, the 12th, 13th, 19th and 20th December and both trains on these days are effectively full.

"There is still good availability on the other ten days that we released and this morning we are releasing four more dates, the 27th to 30th December.

"Two trains will operate on each of these days one at 17.15 and the other at 19.15.

"Should these days fill up we can add a few more dates."

Bookings will reopen at 10.00 on Friday but we may have to close them again at some point in the day to carry out the seat allocation

The Steam and Lights trains will operate on the first two weekends of December and then daily from Friday, December 18 to Wednesday, 23 December, with departures from Swanage station at 5.15pm and 7.15pm.

The attraction replaces the popular Santa Specials which are unable to operate due to the coronavirus restrictions.

The trains, which are adorned with brightly coloured lights, will steam through the Isle of Purbeck passing special lighting displays at stations that line that five-and-a-half-mile heritage line as it makes its way from Swanage to Corfe and Norden during the one-hour return trip.

Visitors must pre-book for the service which has assigned socially distanced seats.

The steam-heated carriages will be festively decorated which will see on-board music synchronised to lineside lighting displays passing the carriage windows.

Swanage Railway volunteer Commercial Director Steve Williams said: “This new Steam and Lights train service in the run-up to Christmas is a festive first for the Swanage Railway and we are very excited because it will be very special and out of this world – colourful, evocative and dramatic. We are looking forward to it tremendously.

“The need to keep our passengers and staff safe against the threat of Covid-19 – by following social distancing and the wearing of face coverings – means that we cannot run our traditional, and very popular, Santa Special trains where Father Christmas gives presents to children on the train and has his photograph taken.”