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Swanage Railway General Discussion

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Rumpole, Oct 10, 2012.

  1. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Very valid points, from my limited experience passenger counting this summer and observations generally over the years it is, because of its location very much a come into Swanage before lunch and all try to leave on the last couple of trains. I know other railways of course suffer the same fate, WSR with Minehead and SVR with Bridgnorth (although of course not seaside driven).
    That like the big railway in commuter land either means in the middle of the day you run the risk of carting around fresh air, or have a during the middle of the day loco standing around in the middle of the day. If that second loco is diesel, then I guess switching it off costs nothing, however if you want a full steam service then it sits there burning pound notes, so a difficult call.
    In thinking about all the issues over the last 24 hours or so I wonder if location, which in the past may have been less of an issue now works against the railway. OK Bournemouth and Poole are nearby, but the next big area east is Southampton. For those non enthusiasts that just want a steam ride why drive 44 miles to Swanage when you can drive 20 miles to Alresford? Plus of course down this way if you want to head north towards Bath or west it takes an age to get anywhere due to the poor roads.
    Most railways of course offer different things so difficult to get a true like for like comparison, but the popularity of Polar Express means there are a number of railways with the same offering, and from a Swanage perspective the nearest railway offering is probably the SDR.
    https://ukfamilytravel.com/polar-express-train-ride-locations-in-the-uk/

    A trawl through the various websites shows that many lines have quite a few sold out trains, the Spa Valley having so out totally. I obviously have no idea who determines the fares, the railway or the licence holder, but Swanage appears to be the highest of those I checked. As far a I can see it also has space on all trains.
    There are of course a staggering amount of these trains, from what I can work out, and most from checking YouTube from previous years appear to be around 5 or 6 coach trains, some longer.

    Swanage 110
    SDR 98
    Wensleydale 144
    Vintage 80
    Churney Valley 75
    Embsay 91
    Spa Valley no idea as now all sold (but with 257 on the trains and a similar line length perhaps the most similar operation to the SR).

    Swanage is 5 x Mk1 and a Maunsell plus the brake/wheelchair coach (and I assume crew coach) so that is 376 seats per train or 41360 for the season. That seems to be a lot of seats to fill to me.

    So bottom line is I guess it may not tell us anything (apart from me wasting a lot of time) other than these trains appear very popular, appear to be selling well in most places, but somehow less so in Purbeck. Does this reflect the issue for the rest of the year, or is Xmas not representative? I do not know. One thing is certain a £10.40 return Sandbanks ferry ride does not aid the railway at all.

    I do know however it does seem to provide a severe headache for those trying to increase passenger numbers, as experience elsewhere should imply these trains should be very popular.
     
  2. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Except of course that the COM runs the SRT. It is the Board of Directors of SRC that run the company and is therefore responsible for the operating programme, catering, retail, events etc etc. The SRC seems to struggle of late to recruit and retain Directors as evidenced by the comings and goings reported to Companies House.
     
  3. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Not a problem unique to SR in the HR world though.
     
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  4. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    Which begs questions about where the boundaries between being a Director, being a Manager, and being a doer fall - and what is sustainable to put on any one person's shoulders.
     
  5. lil Bear

    lil Bear Part of the furniture

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    There has been a form of TTI on most services this summer, and they picked up some interesting itineraries.

    Certainly in the early part of the high season, more people were using the train to go SW > CC, then coming back in the afternoon. One suggestion to account for this is the increase in car park pricing at Norden - it is/was cheaper to park in Swanage and catch the train that way than park at Norden. Add to that the railway stopped offering discount on fares upon production of a Norden P&D ticket after it returned to Council responsibility and more punters potentially lost. There was also the potential people were arriving in on the DMU, then using the steam to shuttle around until they returned. A whole host of possibilities, and one that shows there is no simple solution.

    There are some easy wins; I'd take the hit of the Norden P&D as simply if finances are so short I'd rather have the discounted £14(?) than miss out on a £18 ticket altogether. Sell thirdman footplate rides for 1/2x trips out of your 5/6x. They can be sold at £100+, so that's £200/day / £1400/week. Soon adds up. Thoughts need to turn of how to sell a premium ticket, as the standard fare is clearly not covering it.
     
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  6. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Car Parking:
    Swanage (Victoria Avenue) up to 4 hours £6.70, 4 - 6 hours £7.60, 6 - 24 hours £9
    Norden (Purbeck Park) up to 10 hours £4
    Corfe Castle (West Street) up to 4 hours £3.50, 4 - 10 hours £6.

    You pays your money, you takes your choice!
     
  7. Alan Kebby

    Alan Kebby Well-Known Member

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    As I understand it, the Polar Express trains are run by an external company who set the price, sell the tickets, and employ all the theatrical performers on the train. The Swanage railway are basically just paid to provide a train and operational staff. So lower risk and presumably financially more lucrative for the SR than running its own Christmas trains.

    The first step in the SR’s plan to be more commercialised. 41360 seats at £52 a time, that’s well over £2 million in takings for the Christmas season if all seats sold. I wonder how much of that the Swanage Railway gets.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2023
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  8. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Fingers crossed they have struck the right deal but great to see an event on the SR that has proved phenomenally popular on other heritage railways.
     
  9. Tom02

    Tom02 New Member

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    What are coal prices like atm compared to earlier this year and 2020 2018 ect?

    It's great to see some services packed this summer (in the revenue sense) but clearly that points to more issues if we had packed services yet no money few months after!?!

    I'm sure, next summer if they go to 2 services (1 steam + 33 and 2 steam during weekends) at a regular 40/45 mins frequently that will help passenger numbers even more. As this year's summer timetable was very patch due to the wareham service.

    Longer term, if more money is there for reopend or enhanced routes from central government, a simple swr 159 hourly service during July and August from wareham or Poole to norden may work. After all the track and signaling is all there.

    Leaving SR to only run to Norden and focusing on what they are good at. Secondary spend is important. Corfe castle area is a good size for extra added value things, like you stated above, face painting, viewing birds of prey ect ect
     
  10. martin1656

    martin1656 Nat Pres stalwart Friend

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    I have to agree with the above post, someone like SWR can run a Corfe to Salisbury service, possibly as an add on to an existing service, that terminates at Bournemouth, during summer Sundays, so that the SR can concentrate on its core operation, which is Norton P&R to Swanage, The DMU can become the second of a 2 train service , with additional evening runs in the summer, to Corfe, etc, one option might be to engage with other activities such as festivals, at Corfe with the railway being the transport of choice, ie no car parking, and rail travel only to site, or things like Victorian events, and part of it is travel by steam train,
     
  11. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    It's interesting that that the typical response to the financial problems of heritage railways ( and the SR is far from alone) involves variations on what has been done in the past.....more trains/less trains/added attractions etc. etc. However the core of the problem isn't revenue. Many lines have seen a substantial increase in income this year. Financial stress results from unsustainable embedded costs.
    Material and utility costs have sky rocketed. Examples include brake blocks jumping in one hit from around £80 to just under £300 each. Unprotected by domestic price caps electricity bills have shot by hundreds of percent. Labour costs are escalating exacerbated by increases in the Minimum Living Wage that creates inevitable pressure on differentials. A frequent suggestion is replace paid staff with volunteers but volunteer numbers across all sectors are in decline. By their nature volunteers tend to be part time so you need many more of them to replace just one full time employee and that assumes volunteers have the necessary skills/competence. In that respect the usual focus is on railway skills where volunteers are often keen to be trained. However the main insidious creep of embedded labour cost is down to compliance with law and regulation and that's there day in day out whether you run trains or not. The range of compulsory competence is huge covering areas that our predecessors never had to consider. From Safeguarding, data protection, health and safety to new compulsory training on terrorism awareness the list is growing all the time......... and it all costs! A glance at recent RAIB and ORR reports will show that expectations of staff , including volunteer, management and training, are becoming more demanding as are those of safety over the full panoply of heritage rail infrastructure and activities.
    As has been noted elsewhere the the result is that the traditional heritage railway business model no longer works. No amount of tinkering around the edges is going to change that. What's needed is new thinking such as the SVR deal with Network Rail or the NYMR's emphasis on its wider charitable purposes. Trying to run a sustainable heritage railway relying on traditional levels of member subscriptions, ticket sales and secondary spend supplemented by the occasional appeal and grant support is not going to work. The evidence is there for all to see. Those that react by just doing more (or less) of what they've always done are likely to fail.
    There's only so much that can be extracted from visitors even with the addition of extra day out experiences. Grant support may be harder to secure following recent changes in subsidy control legislation and the scope for substantial cost reduction is limited by compliance obligations. The inevitable conclusion is that more financial support is going to have to come from members. If they want their railway to survive, and for those that volunteer to have somewhere to enjoy their hobby, it's going to mean digging deeper in already stretched pockets.
     
  12. 80104

    80104 Member

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    IMHO even headways are absolutely critical in "persuading" the walk up passenger to travel especially at Norden. If you just turn up at Norden and find out you have nearly an hours wait what are you going to do? Wait or drive down to Swanage? If there is an average wait of 20 minutes then you are more likely to wait and travel especially if the buffet is open and there is the visual attraction of seeing the inbound service loco "run around".

    There have been innumerable studies of public transport which have demonstrated that even headways encourage patronage and maximise passenger satisfaction.
     
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  13. 80104

    80104 Member

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    I have to ask the question whether membership of a heritage railway is quite simply too cheap? Should the membership rates be close to £50 per annum rather than the C£25 - £30 some heritage railways charge? Perhaps more creative pricing membership packages could encourage membership whilst generating income for the railway.
     
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  14. Tom02

    Tom02 New Member

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    100% agree with this, the traditional 'bucket and spade' customers mainly want a frequent service to the Beach.
    Swanage Railway I believe has been more unique in that view where a much larger % of customers are just using it as a 'extra' on their day out rather than the day out itself. Like the IOW or smaller scale railways.

    I really do believe to be successful aa frequent 45 min service during the peaks is needed. Doesn't have to be two steam but at least 1 and the 33 or DMU.


    Another thing I always thought would be good, would be to always run an diesel service (Easter-Summer) (with 1 or 2 steam aswell) but charge a lower 1/3 to 1/2 off for travel on those diesel ONLY services.

    That could open up to more customers who are, yes, liking heritage traction but more using it to just get to Swanage/Corfe. 2024 for example could be £20 for steam return and £10-14 for diesel. This would get more people through the door, through the shop, plus would open up more mouth to mouth advertisement.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2023
  15. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    That is indeed the core question. Of that typical annual membership fee around 50% will usually be swallowed up by magazine printing and postage costs AGM and administration expenses. The NYMR has run a very successful Foundation member scheme where the minimum of £10 per month was set around ten years ago, so probably should now be higher. Many members contribute £20/30 /40/ 50 and in some cases even more every month by Direct Debit in addition to their basic annual membership fee of around £40.

    No doubt substantial increases would reduce the total number of members so they would need to be implemented carefully and thoroughly researched. However the numbers could be transformational. For instance, take a large railway with 10k members generating a net £150k per year in subs ( gross £30 p.a. and net £15 after covering the costs mentioned above). Those costs per member stay the same but, if membership falls by more than two thirds to 3k, and those that remain contribute an average of £20 per month, the net annual income is 3k X £240 less £15 costs and £30 annual fee i.e. £585k. If the railway is, or has, a charity in its structure it might be possible to retain a low basic annual membership fee and treat the monthly subs as covenanted giving attracting a 25% uplift courtesy of HMG. You would need to factor in fewer members to support appeals and probably fewer legacies but, even though maths was never my strong point, the numbers look interesting

    Another way of looking at it if you're a working volunteer...is it worth £20 a month to protect your ability to enjoy your volunteering experience?

    I think it's going to be a case of raising heritage railways' expectations of their members and members having a better understanding of what it really takes to keep their railways alive.
     
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  16. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Very often people dont value something until its gone and then bemoan its passing. It is a difficult question because volunteers do give their time and effort "free of charge" but it isnt only a one way relationship. Heritage Railways do give volunteers a unique experience, an opportunity to relive (or experience for the first time) transport as it used to be and by the very fact of volunteering something that the volunteer is clearly interested in, sometimes very passionately. That must have a value.

    Making a comparatively small donation each month* is surely the price worth paying for being able to continue enjoying something.

    At the risk of being accused of being incredibly politically incorrect I wonder how many partners (of volunteers) would willing pay the monthly donation so that said volunteer isnt getting under their feet / moping around the house all day bemoaning that there is nothing to do.
     
  17. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I mentioned church planned giving earlier. Over the last decade, the Parish Giving Scheme has come into being, allowing people to support their chosen church(es) by regular donation.

    It works by direct debit, taking money on the 1st of the month at the interval specified by the donor. Gift Aid is collected where required, and passed to the individual church. But the real genius of the idea is that it allows donors to indicate a willingness to uplift their giving each year by inflation. This helps stop the erosion of value of donations year on year.

    The costs of running it are met by the dioceses, so churches are encouraged to join. The effect is more money, better cash flow and less work for member churches.

    It’s the sort of scheme that an umbrella group like HRA could usefully sponsor for its members, adding value and reducing workload.

    This would be in parallel to ideas like those above.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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  18. ghost

    ghost Part of the furniture

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    But yet, look over on the CVR thread and you'll see that they are doing quite nicely using the "traditional" method of operating.

    One size doesn't fit all.

    I can also see a major drawback with your monthly subscription scheme. Young people.

    If I was a 16 year old perhaps still at school, maybe doing a vocational course or maybe even working (minimum wage of course), there's no way I would be able to afford £20pm as a subscription fee. You've mentioned the rise in living costs which is even more exacerbated when you're at the very bottom if the wage ladder. Young people have very little chance of getting on the property ladder until a lot lot later in life and only then by very prudent saving and probably with help from parents. I'm not sure paying £20pm to a railway would be the top priority for 99% of young people, thereby excluding them from volunteering and feeling part of the railway.

    How would you address that problem given the decline of volunteers generally and the almost constant need to get young people involved as the "next generation "?
     
  19. huochemi

    huochemi Part of the furniture

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    You're brave, raising "pay to play" (which I believe is common in minor football leagues).
     
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  20. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Raising the issue is absolutely the right thing to do. It is often said that every HR is unique. So on that basis we are talking about Swanage Railway only.

    Swanage Railway is in trouble. According to the Directors it needs £450K to survive this winter. When the risk to the organisation is that great no idea / no topic should be taboo and should be discussed with an open mind.

    There are too many taboo subjects around SR. Discussion is swiftly silenced using a variety of excuses: it is in the past, no good comes from raking over old events, we are where we are, it is what it is, it was the right thing to do at the time etc etc.

    But if Swanage Railway survives, and I certainly believe and hope it will, then there has to be transparency and accountability. Lessons have to be learned from mistakes and the Directors learn to sense check just what they agree to. I very much fear that Swanage Railway is in the last chance saloon. It cant afford to make expensive mistakes going forward.

    As regards encouraging / not discouraging young volunteers and "pay to play" firstly paying does not have to be compulsory secondly by having a zero or lower rate for young volunteers, thirdly if the volunteering can be viewed as educational / giving skills experience etc then the SRT could pay the SRC for the experience on the basis that it is within their charitable educational remit. I am confident that there are funding bodies who would grant monies for such educational opportunities.
     
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