BOSSES at the East Lancashire Railway are celebrating after seeing visitor numbers increase by 25 per cent.

More than 201,000 visitors were recorded for the heritage line, which serves stations between Rawtenstall and Ramsbottom, in 2016.

And the attraction, which saw two historic visits from the Flying Scotsman, has now been named as the second most popular paid-for attraction in Greater Manchester.

The numbers are the highest recorded since the line was reopened to tourists in 1987.

Mike Kelly, who lives in Burnley, took over at the helm last year, as ELR set itself a target of breaking the 200,000 visitor mark by 2020.

He said: “At the start of the year, and again in October, we welcomed the world’s most famous steam engine, Flying Scotsman, and ‘Scotsman fever’ certainly took hold, with nearly 30,000 people visiting our railway to see the locomotive.

“In April we hosted our very first science-fiction themed event, ‘Sci-Fi on the Sidings’, which was an out-of-this-world success, with double the amount of projected visitors attending over the course of the weekend.

“The railway has also seen an impressive increase in ‘Dining with Distinction’ and ‘Drive a Train’ bookings as more and more people are looking for unique experiences.”

Mr Kelly paid tribute to staff and volunteers who keep the railway, which also calls at Irwell Vale and Summerseat, ticking over. Other events added to the programme recently include pirate and princess themed adventure trips.

He added: “The East Lancashire Railway is continuing to go from strength-to-strength and we’re really excited about the year ahead with new events and even more unique experiences planned for 2017.”

Railway bosses added a new station earlier this month, at Burrs Country Park, between Ramsbottom and Bury Bolton Street stations.

There are also plans to install electric gates on the level crossing at Ramsbottom station.