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Heritage Railways near death experience, back from the brink

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Robin Coombes, Feb 21, 2020.

  1. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    Tell you what folks, I wonder if our OP @Robin Coombes is reevaluating the scope of his thesis yet?

    The list advanced so far contains very different lines in many varied circumstances, by no means all of which can be filed under "sorted". I for one will be most interested to see how things develop.

    If our OP doesn't run screaming for the hills, this subject could well prove as fruitful and illuminating as @S.A.C. Martin's 'Edward Thompson' thread. Hope so.
     
  2. Daddsie71b

    Daddsie71b Member Friend

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    Regarding Swanage.
    If today's closer scrutiny from the banks were applied back in 1990, The Purbeck line would be no more.
    Only a 'tame' area bank manager allowed us to carry on (after a coup) with mounting debts and little chance of increased income.
    We still had a railway to build from Townsend to Norden, construct a station at Norden and replace three bridges.
    Perhaps of all the unsung and forgotten hero's, that man should be top of the list.
     
  3. D1039

    D1039 Well-Known Member

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    I've no inside info but believe there were three issues.

    The lease expired and no trains ran (2009).

    The paper mill closed and the landlord sold the land.

    Milton Regis Viaduct's concrete.

    Patrick
     
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  4. Mr Valentine

    Mr Valentine Member

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    Didcot sailed close to the wind in the early 90's. I'm not sure of the exact cause, however there was a recession during this period, which may or may not be a contributing factor as to why a number of the lines mentioned in this thread suffered during this period.

    In the case of Didcot, I think they were able to bail themselves out through the hiring out of a number of engines, which provided revenue through hire fees. Mick Dean was GM during this time. He was later at Swanage; I believe he's retired now, however I think he's still down that way, so could fill you in with more details if need be.
     
  5. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    Middleton came close to the wall back in 1962 but that was a long time ago. I don't think anyone has mentioned the Midland Railway Trust at Butterley or the Eslecar Heritage Railway, yet, both of which have had problems.

    Perhaps it would be an lesser task to name a heritage railway that hasn't gone though a difficult patch. Then, again, that might be a harder task!
     
  6. D1039

    D1039 Well-Known Member

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    More recently (around 2010) Didcot had issues with their lease running down and difficulties securing a new one, eventually Network Rail agreed to lease the site to the Great Western Society for a period of 50 years.

    One that bit the dust and therefore within Robin's description is Southall Railway Centre which formally finished in Feb 19, and the site has other railway uses. Would Steamtown come under this description too?

    Patrick

    P.S. Mr Michael Draper said in 1981 the movement was “sowing the seeds of its own destruction” and in 1997 predicted: “Make no mistake, there will not be 150 [preserved] railways and steam centres in this country at the end of the next thirty years”. The Heritage Railway Association has 180 member organisations regularly open to the public, with 156 of these operating with passengers.
     
    Last edited: Feb 22, 2020
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  7. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    What do you need to run a railway? Functional infrastructure, sufficient motive power, sufficient carriages, sufficient staff (generally heavily volunteer based) and cashflow. I suspect most railways at one time or the other have struggled at times with one of those; if you are struggling with several simultaneously than times can be pretty bleak.

    From long reading of threads on Nat Pres (as a proxy for the general state of understanding of people with a greater than general interest in heritage railways), I would say loco policy and provision has long been of interest. Debates around recruitment and retention of volunteers also frequently crop up. Cash is fairly frequently discussed, often in the context of the balance between revenue and various forms of altruistic donation.

    By contrast, infrastructure is only really starting to become a significant topic of discussion; some railways (the NYMR foremost among them) have very active infrastructure renewal programmes, and presumably the awareness of the need is well established within the membership. Other railways feel to me further behind in the lay / member appreciation of its importance. No track = no railway.

    The issue that is really not discussed is carriage maintenance - and I specifically mean maintenance, not the gorgeous new restorations that appear from time to time. Perhaps the most serious safety incident on a heritage railway in the last few years (at the South Devon) had at its root carriage maintenance, and the associated commercial pressure to keep sufficient operational carriages just to maintain a service. Railways having to cut back or stop services due to lack of passenger carriages may be a developing story of this decade.

    Tom
     
  8. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    I have made a number of comments on the state of carriages, good or otherwise, sadly mostly otherwise. Clearly the SDR incident showed that on at least one occasion it wasnt that it was just the interior that was tatty but the whole structure of the vehicle.
     
  9. Sheff

    Sheff Well-Known Member

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    Peak Rail have come close I think. and weren't the Talyllyn in trouble a few years ago?
     
  10. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I wonder if some of this is time dependent and some of this is structural.

    Loco policy, volunteers and cash flow are going always going to be there.

    Maintaining a line is often harder than re-building a line, I think the FR found this in the 1980s. Many of the people who had been involved in the push to Blaenau Ffestiniog moved on. Perhaps we are finding lines where either things were rebuilt and then people moved on but now we are getting to a point in the life cycle of pway where lines rebuilt in the 1970s and 80s are coming under more stress. Backlogs of work meaning that problems are fixed more slowly.

    With regard to carriages, I wonder how many MK1s went from BR use to preservation in the 1970s and 80s. While they were perhaps not life expired in 1985 they are now. Looking at say the NNR carriage blog, or the MHR carriage blog and the amount of structural repair work that is being done on those carriages would suggest serious problems that are time consuming to fix.

    For as much as some people grumble about MK1's next year will be the 70th anniversary of their introduction.

    I think something else that has not been mentioned has been poor management, not just in terms of the financial side of things, but also the interpersonal skills and record keeping. I can think of a few cases where a muscular style of management has ended up alienating key volunteers.

    A couple of 'storm clouds' on the horizon IMO:

    i) Increasing demands for more professionalisation of the industry. Greater watchdog supervision post SDR and WSR. Do volunteer organisations have the capacity to deal with this, or is there a risk of resistance (ie this is how we've always done it and in the 1950s I was bunking into the shed and no one bothered)
    ii) Ageing ownerships - where there is a group owning locos, this is perhaps less of a problem but when one person or a very small group of people own a loco. There seems to me to be a potential for disputes about what to do with the loco. Some potentially arcane ownerships exist.
     
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  11. 60044

    60044 Member

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    The problems with Mk 1s have long been known, and to its credit the NYMR, for example, stopped patching its carriages and has been doing proper rebuilds (the scope of which have been getting more and more extensive with time) for 20-30 years or more, but with a large fleet it is an effort resembling painting the Forth Bridge and I look at carriages on other railways and it is apparent that standards do vary a lot, A big tin of body filler can hide a multitude of sins, but not for very long!
     
  12. Tim Light

    Tim Light Member

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    I may be wrong but I reckon some of the most stable operations are those that DON'T depend on customer income, but are effectively run as expensive hobbies by enthusiasts with deep pockets.

    As an example, I don't see how the Middleton Railway can pay for the cost of steaming a loco from the handful of paying passengers that they get. And yet they have run trains most weekends for the last 60 years.
     
  13. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    While its a ship, there is little doubt that at several stages in its life, Waverley was rescued by supporters with deep pockets.
     
  14. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    That is not long term stability - what happens when divorce, death or taxes take their toll? Those that bridge fare box, membership and foundation funding seem best placed to me.

    What is sad to see here is behaviour that does little to encourage membership support and is the opposite of what is required to secure large grants.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
     
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  15. Tim Light

    Tim Light Member

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    You're right about that. We have seen plenty of examples of football sugar daddies who have walked away (or died) and left their club to collapse (Bradford PA, Colne Dynamoes). And we have seen it happen on heritage railways too ... e.g. Abbey Light Railway. But there are also organisations where the financial burden is spread across the membership, and the loss of a single member doesn't trigger a collapse. The Middleton, as I see it, seems to operate as a hobby, largely paid for by its members. Fare and sales revenue would appear to be tiny judging by the number of passengers I see.
     
  16. FearOfManchester

    FearOfManchester Member

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    If you want an example of "back from the brink" I can think of no more obvious and recent an example as that of the Wensleydale, as most would rightly say it was a defeat to have to sell off important assets to help the balance sheet they seem to be doing well at the moment, with money being spent in the right places, station improvements, crossing updates, sleeper replacements etc. A damn sight better position now than what they were up against a few years ago.
     
  17. 60044

    60044 Member

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    "I may be wrong but I reckon some of the most stable operations are those that DON'T depend on customer income, but are effectively run as expensive hobbies by enthusiasts with deep pockets".

    Au contraire, I reckon that the most secure lines are those with the highest visitor numbers, because of the added value they bring to their local communities. The SVR, WHR/FR, NYMR and Bluebell also have highly developed fundraising systems. It might be the case that this is the golden age for heritage railways in terms of the funding available, but if that is the case then it is crucial to take the opportunity whilst it is there, as all the lines I've listed are doing and will continue to do so.
     
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  18. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    I suggest that your perception is far from the reality. Middleton pays its way and has done since 1962. We don't pay loco hire fees because we use our own locos or those privately owned ones that we look after long term. In the last twenty five years we have reboilered three locos (albeit one HLF funded) and erected several buildings, all largely out of revenue. It is indeed a hobby but not one paid for by its volunteers. We have been fortunate to recently receive a large legacy, which will enable us to do things that would have taken much longer to do.
     
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  19. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    The RH&DR, in the Collins/Catt era, following the death of Jack Howey in 1963, faced it's share of problems. Postwar currency controls limited Howey's scope to access his Australian assets to fully rehabilitate the line and the advent of cheap package holidays did nothing for passenger numbers. When I first knew the line (around 1965), 16 coach trains (often loaded to the gunwhales) were the norm, to the extent that I occasionally travelled in the 4w luggage vans (converted from original Greenly stock). By this time, serious repairs were beginning to mount up, some of which became too pressing to avoid (replacement of the impressive Duke of York steel truss brigde with socking great RSJs being one example). With dwindling visitor numbers and the death of one of the co-owners, closure and removal of stock to some new location was very much on the cards. IIRC, Cowes to Newport and the defunct Lyme Regis branch were both mentioned at that time.

    I couldn't help noticing that the Wikipedia page for the RH&D glosses over this period completely.
     
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  20. Fred Kerr

    Fred Kerr Part of the furniture

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    An important factor that seems to have been overlooked is the support from local councils within any heritage line's operating area. Whilst lines such as the KWVR and SVR have great local council support it also means a 2-way relationship as the line(s) operate in support of local events (e.g. KWVR arranging transport to aid the recent cycle races; ELR arranging trains at short notice to help with adverse weather affecting local transport). In a local case the failure of the local council (Sefton MBC) saw Steamport (Southport) move lock stock and barrel to Preston at the behest of Preston Council which saw the value of the operation.
     
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