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Sustainability

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Fireline, Jan 30, 2019.

  1. Fireline

    Fireline Member

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    Hi All. I was just wondering... Does anyone think that, given the general downturn in people volunteering, together with the economic climate, and more and more regulation, there are probably too many heritage railways for all of them to survive? I know that some railways have existed hand to mouth for many years, but survival was often because of the dedicated bands of volunteers we have. Now that pool of volunteers is shrinking, and new people do not seem to be coming along at the same rate. Are we finally at the point where some projects, and indeed some centres, will die away? I hope not, but I would be interested to see what others think.

    (By the way, this wasn't a call for "Such and such Railway is skint" posts..... they may be, but it doesn't help them to say it here!)
     
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  2. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Member

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    I have wondered about that too - but we have had such concerns expressed for many years and the reality today is that there are more railways than ever and several are expanding. There are probably more volunteers than ever overall and more coming (as there are more of pension age than ever before). I know that there are proportionately fewer young volunteers but there are quite a few paid younger staff involved as railways become more financially secure. So I remain optimistic.
     
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  3. 61624

    61624 Well-Known Member

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    I think the bigger railways are already dealing with it - most of the bigger ones have full time staff who look after the core engineering activities, whilst the volunteers support them and provide the "frills". It's only in the ranks of the operating staff where volunteers predominate and so far there doesn't seem to be a problem - most stations have more staff on duty than are really required, for example. I don't think steam drivers and fireman will ever not be the glamorous end of the hobby. Sadly, though, I think if anything is squeezed it will be the restoration and use of vintage carriages, which are expensive to restore and maintain.
     
  4. The Saggin' Dragon

    The Saggin' Dragon Part of the furniture Staff Member Moderator

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    Is there a downturn in people volunteering? It is mentioned periodically but does anyone have any data to back up the contention?
     
  5. Wenlock

    Wenlock Member Friend

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    I don't think that there really is a downturn in people volunteering. What there is however is a greater choice of where to volunteer. Not just railways, remember that some of our most valuable volunteers have joined in order to occupy themselves rather than because of being railway enthusiasts first.
    Young volunteers is another thing entirely. Over the years I have noticed it seems to go in waves, groups of volunteers of similar ages, then a gap then another group of a different age range. There always seem to be several young lads and lasses around the Rolvenden shed area, as they get older some move to different areas of the railway, some move away, and some who had moved away come back when they are older. At Quainton Rd there is dedicated young volunteers group called "Q branch" I believe, working on projects which can be safely managed for young people.
    Of course there has seemingly always been a shortage of volunteers, I remember the roster clerk at Quainton in the late '70s and early '80s having to chase around the site to find people to staff the less popular (mainly commercial) posts, such as car parking, refreshments and gate hut.
     
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  6. mdewell

    mdewell New Member

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    It certainly used to be the case that Mk1's were the cheap option, but many of them are now very much life expired and in need of extensive overhauls. The cost difference between a major overhaul of a Mk1 and restoring an older vintage carriage is not a great as it once was. Railways may also want to consider which the public would prefer to ride in. . . ;)
     
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  7. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Part of the furniture

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    True, but also consider the skill-sets required, we struggle to keep up with woodworking demands on our Mk1s as it is, let alone the masses of extra work required on a wooden bodied vehicle, whereas we can manage the amount of metalwork on Mk1s quite comfortably.
     
  8. 61624

    61624 Well-Known Member

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    I'm a great believer in pre-Mk 1 stock, but I can't accept that there isn't a great cost difference in restoration. Most Mk 1 stock will come complete and most earlier will be gutted, and it's the interior fittings that are expensive to make. Once a coach is in traffic the difference is far less, but wooden bodied stock deteriorates faster than steel if not kept under cover when not running.
     
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  9. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    The figure I find most worrying is about income distribution

    If the same percentage of GDP went to wages as it did in the 1970's we would on average vbe about 20% better off

    I'm not directly trying to make a political point but it has a huge impact on our ability to sell tickets & raise funds..............
     
  10. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    The HRA obtain statistics each year for heritage railways on behalf of the ORR and publish these statistics. One concerns man hours worked, for both paid and volunteer staff. The last figures that seem to be freely available on the 'net are for 2016 (https://static1.squarespace.com/sta...HRA-AnnualReport2017-2016AnnStatSurvey-2p.pdf )and show that volunteer hours were still increasing slightly with paid staff hours rising at a greater rate. The 'full time equivalent' workforce had increased by over 33% in the previous 10 years.
     
  11. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I realise this has come out very long. So, the TL,DR version:
    • Railways develop through phases, and phases for funding: phase 1 (construction) - funded to make something new; phase 2 (operation) - funded mostly from revenue and with availability of cheap second hand equipment, but the business model is broken, though that isn't always perceived at the time; phase 3 - renewal, with funding beyond revenue needed just to maintain what exists.
    • Not all railways are at the same point on that journey; the boundaries are gradual not distinct; a railway can be primarily in one phase but have individual pockets of activity in one of the other phases
    • The transition, particularly from phase 2 to phase 3, is difficult and takes recognition by all stakeholders of its necessity; without widespread recognition of the necessity, it won't happen leaving the railway stuck in phase 2 with a potentially broken business model.
    ===
    I think you can divide the history of many heritage railways into three distinct phases, which are visible both in the skills of the volunteer base and, perhaps more pertinently, in how they go about fund raising. For clarity, not all railways are at the same point on this journey, and the phases help identify activity rather than having sharp boundaries: a railway may, for example, be primarily at phase 2 (or even 3) but be doing some phase 1 activity.

    Those phases could be described as constructional - operational - renewal.

    Phase 1 is a construction phase. Typically, railways inherited either moribund infrastructure, or no infrastructure at all. So activities included clearing track beds, laying track, restoring stations, and generally buying redundant ex-mainline carriages and equipment, and ex-mainline or ex-industrial locos, much of which could be got into service with fairly minimal effort. They also developed their ownership and governance structures. Fundraising tended to be fairly easy, in that the end result was very visible: let's re-open this railway. Success was defined as running a train. Generally, funding for this phase tended to be through forming a company - charity structures weren't in place. My hunch is that in many cases, just opening was a triumph, without necessarily a lot of thought about how structures would need to change to support entities that might still be going 50 years later. (When the Bluebell opened, its second locomotive was 50 years old. That same loco is still running, but is now 108 years old).

    Phase 2 was operational. the objective was to run some form of regular service, typically as an attraction, and financially the aim was to still be there the following year, which means maintaining a cash flow. For the larger railways at least, the need to ensure that the railway could actually operate on the days stated in the annual leaflet meant they started to develop repair facilities and also started to take on paid staff in a few key areas, typically in maintenance and so on. Operational events such as enthusiast galas, Santa specials, footplate experience, film work, as well as shops and cafes developed during this phase as a means of diversifying revenue.

    It probably wasn't obvious at the time, but is increasingly so now, that the underlying business model was already fundamentally flawed by this point. Certainly many railways managed long existence through phase 2 (I'd estimate on the Bluebell, for example, that phase 2 lasted from about 1965 to 2005 and other railways are I am sure similar). however, to a large extent, while the revenue was covering the routine costs, it was based on gradually using up residual value in the second-hand infrastructure and rolling stock, coupled with a ready supply of cheap replacements. How many railways started off by buying a few redundant ex-BR carriages at a few thousand pounds each, running them for ten or fifteen years and then, when the condition had deteriorated beyond use, simply buying some more, while the originals were sold for scrap or shunted to the end of a siding and quietly abandoned? Likewise, loco fireboxes and cylinders now often need complete replacement, while track is having to be completely relaid, and all the while the source of cheap second hand ex-BR equipment is drying up, at least equipment appropriate to the period most railways wish to portray.

    From a fundraising point of view, phase 2 was also characterised by - not much. Certainly loco groups continued to raise funds during that period, typified by the number of overhauls of ex-Barry locos, but railways tended to rely on their day to day operations for funding. Day-to-day revenue paid the day-to-day bills and also allowed construction of some important facilities such as workshops, cafes and so on. But it was not keeping up with the gradual declining condition of the equipment. For carriages, that fact was disguised by the ability to buy cheap second hand replacements; and for locos it was disguised by the excitement of a steady flow of Barry overhauls replacing older locos that got sidelined. For infrastructure, there was little funding, so the condition declined, but very gradually and so non-obviously.

    Phase 3 is a renewal phase. Essentially, it stems from a recognition that you cannot simply go to BR to replace worn out equipment; therefore you have to repair and renew what you have. A £5,000 Mark 1 that you hope to run for ten years now becomes a £100,000+ 40 year overhaul; essentially your annual carriage budget has gone up five fold. Likewise, locos need £250,000 boiler overhauls, or track needs relaying at upwards of £500,000 per mile. Enhanced storage (such as carriage sheds) I tend to see as a phase 3 activity, because effectively the rationale is about protecting what you have in recognition that it cannot be replaced.

    From a fund raising point of view, many railways have ramped up their fundraising, often now supported by charity rather than company structures. It is though something fundamentally different from phase 1 and much harder. Attracting money to build something new is one thing, and can be pitched as being very exciting. Attracting money to do what amounts to stand still is a much harder sell; indeed, there still seems to be a prevalent attitude from many that what is seen as "maintenance" ought to be funded from revenue income: sadly, there just doesn't seem to be the money to do so. It's worth pointing out in that light that organisations such as the National Trust - firmly in phase 3 - still run appeals, for example, to restore the roof of a stately home. So even well-run organisations like that must recognise that annual revenue income can't keep pace with maintaining the condition of expensive heritage assets, and therefore has to be supplemented by regular appeals.

    The sustainability point: there isn't much left to "preserve", but there is an awful lot that is nominally "preserved", but is in fact going backwards in condition (infrastructure and rolling stock). So the long-term sustainability of railways seems to me bound up in how they negotiate the transition from phase 2 to phase 3, bringing their supporters with them, in the realisation that the challenge isn't building new stuff, but maintaining and improving the condition of what we have - in other words, renewal activity.

    Tom
     
  12. martin1656

    martin1656 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Oh what a can of worms this thread could open, Its easier to raise funds for something that has a clear impact, like say a vintage coach, or another engine, less so to overhaul existing superstructure, for example saying we need x million for an extension, compare that to x million to renew the worn out track .
    Visitor numbers I think isn't the problem, having enough staff with the right skills is , in the past the movement took advantage of people who took early retirement, or had retired but were still fit, and had an disposable income, that they could afford to give up their free time, that's now a luxury many do not have, so more is having to be done by paid staff which means a greater income is needed costs will now only ever go one way, up, not down, as the service life of what was purchased as scrap from BR reaches its end, buildings, permanent way all will at some stage need attention on our railways,
     
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  13. Forestpines

    Forestpines Well-Known Member

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    I am of the wrong generation to have first hand experience, and the history of railway preservation is in general poorly recorded, but I suspect that the many anecdotal "preserved railways relied on retirees" stories relate to railways in Tom's Phase Two, and that historically in Phase One the work relied much more on the young-to-middle-aged.

    The preserved railway that is probably best served by historical studies - to my knowledge - is the Ffestiniog. It is very clear that with a few notable exceptions the driving forces behind the revival of both the Ffestiniog and Talyllyn were in their 20s and 30s. Alan Pegler and James Boyd were born in 1920; Patrick Whitehouse in '22; Bill Broadbent in '24; Allan Garraway in '26; John Snell in '32; Vic Mitchell and Leonard Heath Humphreys in '34. Tom Rolt was a bit of an outlier, being 40 when he took over the TR, but of course that was effectively his second industrial preservation project after the IWA. There were of course exceptions - the most significant being the first secretary of the FR Society, Fred Gilbert - but the greater majority of physical effort was provided by the younger cohort. By the time the FfR reopened the oldest people on the railway were largely pre-preservation employees who had returned as either paid staff or volunteers, such as Morris Jones (born 1892), Will Jones (1903) and his wife Bessie Jones - joined by a handful of people such as Bill Hoole, who famously moved to the Ffestiniog on retirement from BR at age 65.

    It may be the case that the age profile for significant railways closer to conurbations, such as the SVR or KWVR, was a bit different. I'm not sure if any research has been done or sources documented that say so either way. However the information that *is* available - such as the delightful cinefilm of the mid-60s SVR on show in the Engine House - suggests that the pattern held for "commutable" railways too, and that the initial "Phase One" energy has historically come from young and early-middle-aged people across the whole preserved railway sector, at least during the 1950-80 "founding period".
     
  14. simon

    simon Part of the furniture

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    My experience on three lines in the 70s (two were rather limited whilst the other, I used to volunteer extensively at) supports the view that it was usually people in full time employment or education who made up the majority of volunteers. I don't think there were a significant number of early retirees in the 60s and 70s who also had the disposable income that came to a slightly later cohort.
     
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  15. marshall5

    marshall5 Member

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    Now I come to think about it Simon has a point. Most of the regular volunteers I worked with at that time were in their 20's and 30's with just a few in their 40's and 50's and hardly any retirees. I'm not sure it had anything to do with disposable income but more that the retirees (before early retirement became commonplace) weren't as interested in volunteering. I think that it was the current 60+ age group that, first, really got involved - and many of us still are .... we're just the old gits now.
    Ray.
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2019
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  16. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Member

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    Tom's post #11 is a very accurate description of my involvement with preservation. In my teens I joined the MLPG with lots of my peers and a few of our parents. This became the MLST and a single track line from BR was rented then purchased from Loughborough to Rothley. As I moved away and marriage, family,home etc put the GCR down to the odd visit. Then as my family grew up I was able to spend more time on the lengthened double track GCR.....and now in retirement I am able to give a bit more time and money to the mature GCR.
    However in this "Phase 3" there are more conflicts of interest as the necessary commercial and professional aspects of the railway start to contrast with the interests, abilities and capabilities of the many hundreds of unpaid volunteers who are still essential to keep the railway working and help generate the funding needed for renewal, restoration and maintenance.
    The professional management needed has an incredibly difficult job to reconcile these conflicts of interest and a conventional commercial background does not always guarantee success in dealing with such a wide range of stakeholders......as the various publicised ....and many less obvious "spats!" in the wider Railway Preservation world clearly show......
    But I still remain optimistic and incredably proud of all that has been achieved ...... and will be achieved.
     
  17. arthur maunsell

    arthur maunsell New Member

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    i think there's two groups of lines, major tourist attractions with paid staff to one degree or another, and hobby lines run by volunteers mostly for their own enjoyment. Obviously there's degrees in between, and I think they'd be the ones maybe at risk. The major lines and the hobby lines are well managed on the one hand and fun on the other.
     
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  18. Chuffington

    Chuffington New Member

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    I think we have rather more fundamental problems staring us in the face with coal supplies drying up we could be looking at only running a limited amount of steam locomotives which will just turn into a vicious circle.
    Looking at prices say 10 years ago you could get coal for under £100 per ton now we are staring at £200 per ton, if coal supplies are harder to come by then the costs are expected to increase by 100%, the future of steam railways in this country doesn't look very good to me, who is going to volunteer to run/pay for a diesel run railway?
     
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  19. mikechant

    mikechant New Member

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    Maybe if all the steam-based heritage railways got together they could purchase coal in larger loads at more favourable prices?
     
  20. mdewell

    mdewell New Member

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    Who is going to buy or rent an appropriate depot to accept delivery from the suppliers? :rolleyes:
    Who is going to pay for and arrange the onward delivery to multiple destinations?
     
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