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Spa Valley Railway - Latest News

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by matt41312, Jan 15, 2014.

  1. RASDV

    RASDV Member

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    I really enjoyed my visit to the Spa Valley on the bank holiday Monday -it was lovely seeing 75069 and 'City of Wells' back on Southern territory! As others have mentioned, being a shorter line and with such an intensive service there was always lots going on! And the volunteers were all very friendly and seemed to have having fun as well - so thank you to everyone involved in putting the event on! I also picked up a couple of great books at very reasonable prices at Groombridge, including one I'd had my eye on for a while. So a great day all round!

    I think riding in the Queen Mary brakevan behind 'City of Wells' was a definite highlight though :)
     
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  2. David likes trains

    David likes trains Member

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    Looks like whatever is wrong with 828 isn't easily fixable, it's been taken off the roster for September. I visited with family yesterday, must have been some other issues as services started out running late and the advertised diesel locos weren't in service either. It was a bit of a surprise to arrive at Groombridge and see the train coming in from the opposite direction than expected! 31430 and the diesel shunter to do the manoeuvres at Eridge, instead of 73140 & D7612. The 1325 train got canned to bring things back on time. I should say that those with me really enjoyed the day despite the problems, 828 and all the other steam locos were viewable at Tunbridge.
     
  3. M59137

    M59137 Well-Known Member

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    I don't think it's an unfair comment, it's factually correct. Neither the Swindon nor ELR sets were restored to the standard of the Spa's, and neither were used as regularly.

    Sent from my moto g(8) power using Tapatalk
     
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  4. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    Apologies for the lack of anything being posted here recently, we've been rather busy with events but I thought people may appreciate some news.

    How is the Spa Valley Railway doing this year? Well, we've done rather well this year in terms of visitor numbers, they currently stand at 31,012 with booking for the next few weeks bringing in a further 1,400 people.

    Polar Express visitor numbers broke the 40,000-barrier last Saturday evening which means our visitor numbers, including the post Xmas trains are predicted to reach 75,000 for the year, this is a level we've never experienced before

    In terms of the dining train experiences they have generated a huge amount of income for the year which is broken down as follows:
    • The Kent Gin Train – 517 people, ticket income £17,725
    • The Kent Whisky Train – 170 people, ticket income £6,800
    • High Weald Belle Sunday Lunch – 552 people, ticket income £27,600
    • Fawlty Towers – 484 people, ticket income £36,300
    • Fish and Chip Supper – 536 people, ticket income £13,192.50
    • Fish and Chip Lunch – 697 people, ticket income £15,580
    • Murder Mystery – 635 people, ticket income £26,729
    • Cream Teas – 804 people, ticket income £15,976
    • Afternoon Tea – 684 people, ticket income £27,845
    • Real Ale Train – 160 people, ticket income £2,260
    • Ploughman’s Lunch – 274 people, ticket income £10,485
    Total 5,513 diners and income from dining of £200,492.50, there is the cost of the events each time we run them but overall this is nearly 40% of our annual income (excluding Polar Express) and the value of these products and what we offer shouldn’t be underestimated.

    Special events this year have been something unprecedented for our railway, we have seen the visits of the following locomotives:
    • Lancashire & Yorkshire No. 752 - Winter Steam Up and February Half Term
    • Caledonian Railway No. 419 - Scottish Steam Up Events
    • Caledonian Railway No. 828 - Scottish Steam Up Events
    • BR Standard 4MT No. 75069 - 25th Anniversary Events
    • Bulleid Pacific No. 34092 'City of Wells' - 25th Anniversary Events
    • Class 24 D5054 - Summer Diesel Gala/25th Anniversary Events
    • Class 25 D7612 - Summer Diesel Gala/25th Anniversary Events
    • Class 73 73141 'Spa Valley Railway 25 Year Anniversary' - Summer Diesel Gala/25th Anniversary Events
    And despite the enormous costs all of it has paid off. Our regular operations have been in the very capable hands of No. 2890 'Douglas' and up until May we also had 'Sir Keith Park' operating a few service trains.

    2023 will I have no doubt be a challenging year for us, we have set the bar quite high with our 2022 events and the cost of operating is only going up, our electricity supply for example for one site alone is increasing from 15.48p per kWh to 68.41p per kWh in the next few months which could see our electricity bill go up by over £38,000 for the year if we don't change how we do things... Not all plain sailing these heritage railways but nonetheless they provide joy for thousands each year and it is thanks in our case to a great team of volunteers that we keep on going and putting on a show for people to enjoy.
     
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  5. Southernman99

    Southernman99 Member Friend

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    Income is one thing. What is the GP of the dining operations? Some very promising numbers. 2023 will be a serious challenge with inflation now above 10%, food prices rocketing as well.
     
  6. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Well-Known Member

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    It is appreciated that you have been prepared to share with us some facts regarding the Spa Valley operation. It is really good to see that the trend in numbers of visitors is increasing. Well done to you and the team at Spa Valley.
     
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  7. ady

    ady Well-Known Member

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    I wouldn't appogise Mr Johnny sir. You update more often, and very transparent on certain points compared to other railways like Swanage are.
     
  8. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    I've just been looking at 2023s increasing coincidently and our dining fares will go up. If you took the raw dining train costs i.e. the income from the ticket and the direct expenditure such as food and actors (i.e. Fawlty) then you are left with an estimated £75,000. If you then include all the secondary spend (wine, beer etc) then it will increase, however, this is all done on a daily basis rather than a by hour basis and by that I mean when I run the day report it'll tell me what sales we've had but not when so it is never as specific as which dining train sold the most on.

    We combine our dining trains with our standard days running I.e. we use a coach for Afternoon Tea on the standard service train and it is often this that can be the difference between P&L for an operating day so I manage two reports, one is the dining train raw costs and the other is the operating P&L day report.

    Hopefully that makes sense. I would say that any profit from trains is spent as soon as it arrives and usually at year end the company does show a small loss on the accounts, things like the new shed doors for Tunbridge Wells West, coach batteries, the ongoing repairs we have to do to the track and bridges (£20,000 on the A26 this year alone), training of volunteers, re-investment such as new dishwashers etc all add up.
     
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  9. alexl102

    alexl102 Member

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    Is it too early to ask about your motive power plans for next year? I know you’ve got a Bulleid arriving for the winter, but do you anticipate hiring in further additional steam locos for extended periods as you’ve done this year?
    I believe you’ve got some locos under overhaul too - how are these coming along?
     
  10. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    We're still under discussions regarding 2023. Hopefully our own Jinty will return to service at some point but this cannot be guaranteed.
     
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  11. alexl102

    alexl102 Member

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    Thank you.
     
  12. Vulcan Works

    Vulcan Works Member

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    Jonnie, thank you for sharing the details, I know more about your railway at the other end of the country to me than I do about the railways I’m a member or shareholder of!

    I think the figures prove the advantage of offering the widest range of services to the widest range of people. Income, costs and profitability are a complex mix of issues, plus there are capacity and staffing considerations and the need to ensure customer affordability.

    I would expect for example that afternoon cream teas for a railway are a ‘nice little earner’ and easier to provide (in relative terms!) than a grand Fawlty Towers type of event even though a grand event might generate more income and profit per head. However part of the attractiveness of a Fawlty Towers or Murder Mystery event is the exclusivity factor and premium service enjoyed by customers. If the events are run too often and / or there are not enough staff to provide a premium service then the law of diminishing passenger returns sets in. Trying to find the sweet spot is no easy task but it does seem that the Spa Valley is doing well and you should all be proud of your achievements.
     
  13. Dan Hill

    Dan Hill Part of the furniture

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    I'm certainly looking forward to my next visit to the Spa Valley, hopefully when 34072 is visiting.
     
  14. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    Working together, that was the theme on Saturday 22nd October when I hosted Robin Coombes, General Manager of the Kent & East Sussex Railway and Lisa Boyle, Chief Operating Officer of the Bluebell Railway at Tunbridge Wells West to discuss our current positions, what we are up against and how we can better work together to achieve an end result that benefits us all. We are trying to use heritage trains but in the modern world and s

    It was a very productive day which included a light lunch on the train and has resulted in us three going away having had some very useful conversations about business, 2023, joint marketing, what sells, what doesn't, galas, their viability, commercial activities, recreating the past, attracting new volunteers and keeping current with the ever changing world.

    It is our intention to try and meet 3 or 4 times a year to keep tabs on where we're at and help whenever possible, in our eyes there is no competition between us, our competition is all the other attractions fighting for customers but we've got to attract people away from the comfort of TV and games consoles first.

    How do we do continue to do that when it'll cost money in either fuel or other other transport to get to the us in the first place, we then charge an entry fee or for a train ticket, we then hope people will still spend money in our shops and catering outlets to further increase revenue. Somewhere like Spa Valley suffers because of the supermarkets right next-door to our main station, we used to stock sandwiches as an example in our catering outlets, these were brought in from a supplier for ease but the cost price isn't that cheap. When you then sell the sandwich with the VAT added on top you'd be making about 30p per sandwich and then hoping you'd sell them all, we didn't always achieve this because we can't compete with supermarket prices. If you did sell out of the whole order (there is a minimum number you can buy) you'd make about £7, did that pay to run the fridge for 48hrs that weekend... That might sound daft but a lot of the way people look at heritage railways is the cost of coal or the glamorous steam engine pulling the train, the behind the scenes work that goes on in silly little things like sandwiches etc all contributes towards our costs.

    In the last two years since we re-opened after the various lockdowns I've witnessed the public wanting more and more from our heritage railways. Last winter during the Steam Up I distinctively remember one family getting on our train, sitting down having a cup of tea expecting some form of entertainment to burst into the coach and start amusing them, they were greatly disappointed by it just being a train ride. Does the selling point of look out the window at the pretty scenery/stunning countryside still work, I know my niece asks to play a game on my phone rather than looking out the window within minutes of getting on board a train anywhere, let alone a heritage one. Will we one day be expected to expand the amount of interactive things we do and by that I mean bolt tablets to a table so people can interact with the railway during the journey rather than just in a museum.

    This might be seen as controversial, not what we're here for in some eyes (and it is just my own views) but not everyone gets to see the running of a railway first hand so I thought this might be useful.
     
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  15. Southernman99

    Southernman99 Member Friend

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    Not controversial at all. Heritage attractions (not just railways) need to move with the times but also be sympathetic about how they go about it and how it can be seamlessly intergrated into the historical aspect.
    At the other SVR, I am working on how we can provide more and better interpretation for our carriages, using QR codes

    You are dead right though. Our passengers expect more than just a ride behind a steam engine and looking out the window.
    One of the problems I run into is the attitude of "its a working museum so you cant change anything". That is reserved for one or two people but can be an infectious attitude.
     
  16. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Your take on catering is interesting and I'm very much inclined to agree with you. A lot of people think it is a fundamental necessity for heritage railways to provide it and it is definitely a nice to have for the visitor but is it really of benefit to the railway? There are significant costs and resources required in providing catering and, quite often it is not something that a volunteer wants to do so staff are paid. Even where staff are volunteers, I'm of the opinion that they should be costed in to the scheme of things, even if it is only a nominal £50/person/day. Volunteers are giving up their time to help the railway, not provide Joe Public with a cheap meal when charging a real world price would make it an expensive option. Some railways do benefit from providing catering; there is no doubt about that but I suspect the majority don't get the financial benefit it is perceived to be by a lot of people.
     
  17. 30854

    30854 Resident of Nat Pres

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    From a considered post, this sentence stood out. Many moons ago, a response to the question of revenue abstraction through rail/bus competition pointed out the ultimate challenge to both was the private car. My own view is that all attractions are in competition with those home-based interests (TV, Internet, social media). We can't wish the modern world away, but finding a way of turning it to advantage is merely an extension of the marketing expertise so many of our limes have built up over decades.

    Does anyone else look at the demographic of visitors to our lines with a degree of concern? I see comments expressing the opinion that interest is heritage railways is waning. If correct, is that inevitable? or merely a product of expecting the punters to respond as they always have? In all honesty, I don't know for certain and mine is merely surmise based on observation, but maybe we need to take a beat to ask if we've covered all bases in a rapidly moving market? If interest (and therefore our customer base) is diminishing, I'd hate to think it was due to hidebound thinking.
     
  18. 007

    007 Member

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    You really hate Swanage don't you. I for one, do not want Swanage going on a public forum, saying exactly how much money it has made down to the penny.
    If SVR want to do that then fair enough and I congratulate them on their success. This is a tough world, blighted by war, inflation and a cost of living crisis. I fear that if we position ourselves as 'all successful' our true position will be a shock to our supporters and eventually lead to a fall. What goes up must come down.
    It is clear the SVR isn't blind to this, in light of the energy crisis stuff that Jonny has spoken about. The SVR is clearly having its moment in the Sun and well done on that.
     
  19. Sidmouth

    Sidmouth Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator

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    One railway made more money as a result of the covid lockdown year than they would do normally ? Why a very successful and popular catering establishment that was able to be open and generates a very healthy return which helps underwrite the cost of railway operation
     
  20. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    One heritage railway? There are about 150 of them in the UK. Just because one railway does this it doesn’t mean other railways can, should or even want to.
     

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