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Spa Valley Railway - Latest News

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

  1. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    This has been an interesting thread and I'd like to thank @Jonnie for the candour in providing the information. Quite frequently you read that such and such an event has been a success, or not, but rarely see that quantified in terms of cash and passenger numbers.

    What it does show is that for an event bringing in one or more visiting locos, the costs for doing so (which are in turn a major part of the event costs) are broadly similar regardless of whether that then attracts 500 or 5000 people to visit. I can see how, for example, a diesel gala with an expensive mainline move of a convoy of locos may be felt a risk too far if you don't attract sufficient passengers.

    It's very hard to know what might make a gala a success or not. The O1, for example, is a unique loco that has very rarely travelled anywhere - but maybe the Spa Valley was just too close to the Bluebell to really attract many people - those in the catchment for Spa had almost certainly seen it many times already. On its visit to the KESR it at least had the draw of returning to former lines for the first time in 50 or so years. It remains to be seen whether Swanage is far enough away that there will be a significant number of people in that catchment for whom it would be "new". Maybe that is groping towards a notion that, for the loco-centric portion of the market, the optimum visitor is either one that has a very close association with the area but hasn't been seen in years; or else something that comes from a long way away and would be unfamiliar (such as the two CR locos that visited last year). But that adds to the transport costs of course.

    One obvious thought on costs of hiring in a visitor - choose tank engines! Essentially from an enthusiast and marketing point of view, it is still a "new" loco etc; but with half the transport costs of a tender loco!

    One other point on how you do your finances would be about the contribution from fundraising. Galas often provide a significant part of the annual income for groups based on your railway (dependent on footfall of course) but because often they are quasi-separate groups, it doesn't always get rationalised into the profit / loss for the weekend. A fund on your railway that does £1,000 of sales over the weekend may be pretty pleased if the alternative of no event is they do essentially zero.

    Tom
     
  2. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    We need planning permission to put anything more than the sign that is already on the side of that building onto it, trust me, been there, done it, got very fed up trying! We use the fence at the front out our station though for most things to advertise events.
     
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  3. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    We tried the Branch Line theme last June with the O1 and Ivatt on a weekend after, we've also tried the industrial theme, remember we had Ugly, 72, Ring Haw, Walkden etc over the years pre-COVID and sadly this really didn't bring in visitors.
     
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  4. Johnb

    Johnb Nat Pres stalwart

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    I wondered if that might have been the case. It might be worth lobbying councillors who also may not understand what a an asset to the local economy the railway is.
     
  5. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    Sadly, that didn't work either. Still needs planning permission.
     
  6. Johnb

    Johnb Nat Pres stalwart

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    I just thought it might help sway the planning committee but I suppose this is Tunbridge Wells!
     
  7. alts1985

    alts1985 Well-Known Member

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    It’s a shame to read the profits were minimal as we had a great day and it felt fairly busy on the Saturday we attended. We started at Eridge as with planning to finish our day after dark we preferred the idea of parking at the station rather than a walk, albeit a short one, from TWW to a local car park with our 7 year old. For me 34072 (34066) & 80078 were the draw, will travel behind/watch/video/photograph anything steam but if you give me a choice I will always go for the Southern locos, I’ve seen 78019 a fair bit at Great Central over the years and 828 isn’t Southern so I planned my day around 34072 & 80078 - which goes to show of course everyone is different. We would have come last year for 41313 & 65 but had already booked the Great Central Gala which was the same weekend. We really like the Spa Valley as with the line being short it always feels busy and it’s never far off the next thing happening, unlike what can sometime happen on the longer lines. My 7 year old was happy enough for the day, he is a train enthusiast child it must be said, his highlights at the Severn Valley mind are always Paddock Railway at Hampton Loade & Engine House at Highley, two things the Spa Valley just don’t have the space to do, but also two things that they don’t charge for but will draw people in. Perhaps more can be made of TWW shed in the longer term, a real unique USP amongst heritage railways.
     
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  8. chrishallam

    chrishallam Well-Known Member

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    I have to admit, I've only visited once a few years ago for a joint beer festival/diesel gala. The cross platform interchange from the direct London train was a big help and we were impressed with the set up (and beer), but haven't found time to come back.

    It's a refreshing look to be so open about events. I can only speak anecdotally, as I don't sit on any boards or committees, but at the NVR we used to put on fairly large galas (both steam and diesel). These were enjoyable as an enthusiast, brought in plenty of people and revenue, but that doesn't always translate into a massive bottom line by the time you've paid transport, steaming fees and coal for visitors and home fleet.

    I think it's noticable that events now usually just involve a star visiting loco (admittedly easier for the the NVR with a mainline connection and ability to run trains with the heaviest axle weights) running as a single train, possibly with a separate feeder service... The 'Flying Scotsman' model of service as it were...

    I don't have the exact details of how these events stack up financially, but the fact this is the model that is repeatedly used implies it has its benefits, even if it is less exciting from an enthusiast viewpoint.

    Certainly at the events I've been involved in, we've looked at the costs to bring something in and decided it wasn't worth the financial risks vs a home fleet event.

    I know the GCR tends to do well regardless of the type of visiting locos they bring in because they've built up the reputation over the years with action every 15 minutes in either direction, so the engine pulling the train can be slightly irrelevant at times whether it's a big name, home fleet or more run of the mill visitor.

    And at the far end of the scale you have something like the GWSR with multiple visiting locos.

    Whilst each visiting loco has a similar cost associated with it (allowing for the difference between tank vs tender, and different hire fees), there are obviously diminishing marginal returns to more visitors. If I'm going to attend the GWSR gala because of the Grange and Saint, bringing in an additional manor, pannier or prairie tank, for example, may enhance the experience for visitors, but may not bring in more revenue, for a much increased cost.

    The Spa Valley is building up a good reputation, but you're not going to be able to turn on a tap to ramp up enthusiast visitor numbers overnight. It seems it would be hard to increase revenue easily for these events therefore... From an outsider's perspective, your home/long term visitor fleet seems to be punching well above it's weight both in terms of number and variety of engines. One of the things that has been cited is the last minute change of haulier, and costs associated with the standard 2. Considering how well travelled the standard 2s are, I'd question how many visitors the loco brought in. It's always nice to have a new toy to play with, but considering the strength of your home fleet, it's a serious amount of extra bums on seats required to cover those transport costs...

    For me at least, had I been available to attend it is the variety of things happening like brake van rides, more exotic locos like 828 etc that are the attraction, or goods trains etc, rather than a standard 2 that has been around the block a few times
     
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  9. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    Regarding the Standard 2, this was the first time we'd had a steam locomotive visit from the Great Central Railway and the relationship we have built through its visit is good for us and no doubt for them too in the future, so there is that part to keep in mind. Who knows what they might have we'd like to borrow one day or they might like from us?

    The Ivatt though (not to go on about it) but by contrast, was very rare in that it hadn't left the Island since it'd gone there so whilst the 2's have been on a mix of railways the Ivatt hadn't and the draw wasn't there. The Ivatt coming was also authentic as they did run on the line, that one itself had even been seen at Tunbridge Wells West!

    828 has fortunately still got a draw as to my knowledge it has only visited us, Llangollen and the Severn Valley. It is on loan for the rest of 2024 at least.
     
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  10. The Gricing Owl

    The Gricing Owl Member

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    I'm very much with you regarding Southern locos and classes that used to run on the Southern, especially those that worked to TWW. So I'm really enjoying 80078's time at the railway. 34072/34066 too, as Bulleid's Light pacifics (and MNs) are well above all else in my own rather closely focussed steam loco world. And, as well as 34066 having had a very short stay at 75F to work one leg of a March 1964 railour, there is evidence of 34079 having also been there in normal steam days - a photo in the mess room. Finding that out was with many thanks to Lliam (I think that is the very helpful guy I chatted with), and helps my search in following up a memory of a long term SR steam loco friend who recalls word of an original Bulleid being briefly loaned to 75F in 1965 to work a morning train to London (must have been via Oxted).

    One loco I would like to see there is SR mogul 31806, running chimney from Eridge into TWW as most locos do. That would fit nicely with SR mogul 31852 that I saw and photographed around Groombridge in April 1962.

    But of course I realise that almost all steam loco enthusiasts have a very much wider range of interest than mine, and I fully accept that commercial success does not come by pandering to a very small minority interest! Especially as I am very well aware from many on-station and lineside chats, how popular such locos as 828 (57566) are.

    Anyway @alts1985 the latest loco roster (but as always on any heritage railway, subject to change) shows 34072 to be in service on 9 & 10 March and again on 16 & 17 March! :):) Although I will be making a visit of two before then to enjoy 78019 - not a class that did run on BR SR, but a mogul and that (to me at least!) sort of fits in with the SR moguls I saw at Groombridge and nearby in 1962.

    Bryan
     
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  11. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    I suspect industrials are a bit of a niche market among enthusiasts and of less interest to the general public.
    The Foxfield Gala (some years two) was always one of the highlights of my year, but of course it was an industrial line and some of the adjoining infrastructure echos that. Also being mid country (ish) it seemed to attract those from north and south.
    As you seem to have found not sure that one of the very south located lines would generate enough footfall (sadly).
     
  12. John Petley

    John Petley Part of the furniture

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    If you want industrial steam in the south of England, the obvious place to go is the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway . Like Foxfield, it was an industrial line and although the paper mill which was its raison d’être has now closed, the landscape in the area still strongly hints of heavy industry and of course, the locos are working over the same line where they operated when the mill was open. Selling industrial steam at a line which runs through the woodland and farmland of the High Weald will always be a much harder challenge, but it was worth a try.
     
  13. alexl102

    alexl102 Member

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    @chrishallam Interesting that you
    Unless of course you want standard gauge!
    I'd also argue that Embsay do fairly well running through the Yorkshire Dales almost exclusively with Industrials. I don't think they'll necesarily be a draw for the SpVR but I don't think they'd put people off either.

    I do wonder if being between two more high-profile railways is a factor. But that's not to say that there is no hope! I've no doubt there'll be a USP, and even if Enthusiasts aren't currently flooding it sounds like the dining offerings etc are going incredibly well. Keep up the great work Jonnie!
     
  14. Woolley

    Woolley Member

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    It’s hard to say what to do for the best my other half and kids will always tag me in events on a railway when it’s something they like but when it’s something I like they won’t tell me for instance my local line has a gala coming up but they won’t want to go but if peppa pig was there they would want to go and I would hate every minute of it.so peppa pig has all our money but a gala has only me if that makes sense
     
  15. MAPLE CHRIS

    MAPLE CHRIS Member

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    its harder to attract enthusiasts nowadays as people who remember steam are declining each year and young people who are climate savvy may be put off by negative press towards coal i am hoping to visit the Spa Valley this year by train i am surprised more do not attend given the large population in the south east
     
  16. Bail5029

    Bail5029 New Member

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    In being part of the WSR Gala team, I would say we organise an Enthusiast Event disguised as the 'Event of the Year'. What do I mean by that? Well I would say that a significant number of visitors to our successful events over the last few years have been families, not enthusiasts, especially on our 'Kids for a quid' on the historically quieter days of the event. We do a mix of advertising, some for enthusiasts highlighting the timetable, visitors, authentic recreations etc... the other side pushing more general public draws. We also try and do one of two things, do one theme really well to highlight a recreation of history (the S&D event in 2016 was a prime example of that.), or we have as much variety as possible to target a wide demographic of enthusiast. Half way in between we have found not to be as effective. Take this year, the B1, a big named engine brings in one set of clientele that is quite different to those interested in 2807 or the coal tank respectively. Having said that, the loco hire market is very dynamic and there is an element of taking what you can get at times, but that can sometimes work in your favour. Re mainline moves, for diesel events in particular, when a convoy can be established to & from the event holds a significant cost saving over lorries. So if it can be done, it should. The final point I'll make that the value of breaking even at a gala event shouldn't be underestimated. I know for a fact that I wouldn't be volunteering at the WSR if it had not organised galas when I was a child. I know one individual whom I met at our event last year is now in our cleaning gang and is fast becoming a valued part of the locomotive department. Their future hours are worth an awful lot! The secondary benefits are far spread and hard to quantify in an event post mortem, but they shouldn't be forgotten. All of this & more comes together to *hopefully* become a successful event. I'm sure the Spa can & will hold profitable events in the future by taking calculated risks & thinking outside the box.
     
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  17. malc

    malc Part of the furniture

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  18. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    We took quite the gamble with 419 and 828, it paid off and I didn't think it'd be an issue because of what it was a selling factor for that was 828 was coming on a 6-month loan anyway and 419 was coming to/from the Battlefield Line rather than Bo'ness and from memory transport was split 50:50 so it worked out favourably that way. Coal and transport was also a lot less than what it is now.

    I'm sure we're all experiencing a degree of coal burn rates changing from supplies we had 4-5yrs ago and of course I'm well aware the price per ton has increased considerably (see various editorials if you're not sure) through no fault of the coal merchant, I'm just extremely glad we can still get it!

    If I ran a comparison budget from the pre-cost of the world going up the event we've just done should I estimate have made between £5,000 to £6,000.
     
  19. LittleRedTrain

    LittleRedTrain Member

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    It's great to get such transparent and candid info from Jonnie.

    I thought the event was great and deserved to be a lot busier than it was, though the weather certainly didn't help matters.
    It was interesting to compare with the Battlefield Line the previous week which was heaving, though I suspect the original plan to have 6880 there may have got it into people's diaries early.

    Personally I thought that a return brake van ride at £2.50 including a free tea was an absolute steal, would happily have paid at least double that, so maybe worth re-examining the price for future events.
    Incidentally, my ticket was never checked on the van itself, only for redeeming the tea!

    Perhaps the temporary renaming of 34072 could have been publicised more than a couple of days in advance, I don't know if that would encourage more enthusiasts to visit (I know it's a controversial subject for some).

    I do wonder if there's a scope to make a little more at these events through secondary spend on catering.
    Normally when I go to a gala, I drink a lot of tea, and usually treat myself to a bacon bap, pasty or at least a sandwich while I'm there.
    However, as far as I could tell, the only refreshments available at TWW were cold cans or a tea from a self-service machine, and at Groombridge, the kiosk didn't have any sandwiches (despite signs to the contrary) so I had to make do with just a pre-packaged piece of cake with my (very welcome) proper cup of tea in a mug.

    I seem to recall at a previous event, there was a BBQ stand at Groombridge doing a roaring trade. If you can get someone to run something like that, I'm sure there's scope for a bit of additional profit.
    Even having some pre-packaged sandwiches available in the TWW shop and Groombridge kiosk might bring in a bit of extra profit with minimal extra expense/staffing requirement.
    Also, if you've got to go off to Sainsbury's for your sandwich, you'll probably end up buying drinks and snacks there at the same time rather than that spend going to the railway.

    I'm sure Jonnie & Co have probably already thought about all this and there's good reasons for the current arrangement, but thought it worth putting in my 2p!
     
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  20. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    The saga sandwiches caused me at that event was unreal. I placed an order with our supplier about a week before, the order was submitted and as far as I was aware it'd gone through. Que Friday morning... no sandwiches turned up, they deliver early hours, we don't have the facilities to make sandwiches on mass, only store them. Whilst we have a kitchen it'd take up the few of us that do catering (amongst everything else) maligning them.

    Anyway, it transpired the sandwich supplier had suspended our account because I hadn't ordered from them for 6-months, which wasn't true as an order was placed for the Beer Festival in October. Anyway, after eventually getting through to someone in what can only be described as a call centre who really hadn't got a clue it turned out they'd suspended our account. Struggling to get across to the person at the other end of the phone resulted in a bit of an argument about sandwiches and I eventually just gave up.

    I put a post on the local Tunbridge Wells Facebook group to see if any local suppliers were able to help at the last minute but sadly they could not. So, that is the truth behind CSI Sandwiches, they were ordered but they didn't arrive because the supplier couldn't be bothered to contact me regarding our account.

    Sandwich Finance
    As people seem to like bits of information on the behind the scenes world and if you have ever wanted a break down of profit and loss on a sandwich brought in, then here you go. This is probably going to be the most uninspiring post ever published on this forum as ultimately we're all here because we like railways but anyway.

    Cost price shown next to sandwich.
    • Chicken & Bacon Club - £2.14
    • BLT Cost Price - £2.00
    • Cheddar Ploughman's - £2.12
    • Cheddar Cheese - £1.17
    • Smoked Ham - £1.13
    • Roast Chicken Salad - £1.86
    • Ham & Cheddar - £1.77
    • Chunky Egg & Bacon - £1.77
    I have to take into consideration 20% VAT to all these. We then sell them at £3 a sandwich (could I justify anymore?) and the most I make out of one sandwich is £1.67, despite this large profit so to speak that is then lost by the more expensive sandwiches. If I order 80 sandwiches (10 each) we make £84.40, do we sell all 80 sandwiches, it varies. That said if does help having them available as people (as is said above) buy a sandwich and a drink, packet of crisps etc.

    Something we suffer from that places like the Bluebell at Sheffield Park don't is you either eat food you've bought with you, buy it from their catering outlets, wait until you get to East Grinstead to visit Sainsbury's or you go hungry.

    We have Sainsbury's and Lidl right next-door to us at Tunbridge Wells and no matter what we try and do food offering wise, sandwiches, crisps etc we'll always be beaten on price by the supermarkets with their meal deals and much greater selection of goods. It is much appreciated when visitors do spend money on catering and retail at our line rather than going next-door but it is so easy for people to hop off in a run round and visit the middle of Lidl.

    It might surprise you but even with a bar car selling a variety of wine, beer, cider, sprits, lager, soft drinks etc on the train, people still go to Sainsbury's and come back with a can of Fosters or a bottle of cheap wine and wonder why we charge corkage on a dining train. The cheek of the general public sometimes is unfathomable and they don't then quite get (unless I'm just old fashioned at 31 years old) that you don't usually take your own wine with you to a restaurant!

    The above said, our dining trains and catering overall do very well for themselves.

    So there you have it, heritage railways, sandwiches, supermarkets and a bit more of the reality of running a railway. Some say it's fun, my Friday evening was spent sorting whisky for the train tomorrow and building a stage for a show we've got coming up.

    78019's running this weekend and next to go back to trains for a second.
     
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2024
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