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Extensions - a snare and a delusion?

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by paulhitch, Apr 13, 2013.

  1. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I'm not sure quite what you are getting at here, Paul. We're not running pure transport business. Yes, some lines (I'd cite Swanage as an example that we use in exactly that fashion) provide a useful "park and ride" transport function, but the steam train ride is part of the attraction that encourages people to shell out what is more expensive than driving and parking. If they wanted to be pure, stripped-back transport providers, yes, the fares would be lower - but so would passenger numbers, since most people would just say "sod it" and go by car. Most preserved lines wouldn't survive on that model: with a few exceptions, there was a good reason they all closed in the first place!

    As for comparing the MHR extension to Alton with the Bluebell one to EG: I don't really know the history of the MHR one beyond what was written here. But the EG extension certainly hasn't put the Bluebell within a few days of going bust, as was alleged to have happened to the MHR, since the fundraising and expenditure were kept very much at arms length from the core operation. Now, you could argue that the £5m or so it cost to extend north of Kingscote could have been better spent on the existing line: for example , to relay all the line between SP and HK. But that ignores the fact that it is very unlikely that we would have raised more than a fraction of that £5m if the proposition had been "buy materials to maintain what we already have" rather than "extend to somewhere new, with a real destination and a intra-station connection to the mainline from London".

    Fundraising for maintenance, rather than new works, is almost impossible. As it is, if I were finance director, I'd rather have 11 miles to maintain with the extra passengers expected to be generated from EG, rather than 9 miles without them.

    Tom
     
  2. guard_jamie

    guard_jamie New Member

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    I think the point is one of priorities - should a heritage railway see itself as an entertaining day out, or as a heritage means of transport in a wider corridor of attractions (including walks, shopping etc.), including park and ride facilities.

    It's a question of balance, I think, but more importantly I think that there is no one size fits all policy. Probably the majority must always consider themselves as an entertaining day out in themselves with a side business in providing a means of transport, but why not provide both when there is a market for both?

    As examples, the Swanage Railway obviously provides a park and ride facility to a busy seaside resort, and provides a genuine service to holidaymakers on Purbeck. The extension to Wareham adds to this; the value of an easy connection to NR may prove limited, but the extension to another 'somewhere' may well heighten traveller numbers and ease congestion on Wareham as Norden becomes a park and ride to both Swanage and Wareham. So the SR has the potential of becoming a genuine transport service - even more so than it is now.

    On the other hand, let's look at the Churnet Valley Railway. Similar length, but fairly isolated from 'somewheres'. Whilst there's the potential there for an Alton Towers extension, in the meantime the CVR needs consider itself as an entertaining day out, not as a part thereof.
     
  3. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Didn't want to bring the w&llr into this but, since it has been, during the past winter it relayed around half a mile of track with brand new rail, ditto sleepers, ditto Criggion granite ballast, ditto fastenings. This would have been impossible had the organisation had been run other than very frugally and sensibly. Three of the four locomotives in use this year have been re-boilered in recent years. As for any surge in business following the re-opening into Welshpool, I recall this as being very moderate indeed.

    I tended to think of the Great Central Railway double track as a folly but, on reflection it does give an USP provided no-one else does the same.

     
  4. I think that after working for 36 years with the WSR (and a few years before that with the Swanage) I reckon I do "get it", Paul. In all that time, the "bottom line" has been the top of the agenda and I think a lot of other railways understand and work that way too. If the WSR worked out a sound business case for extending beyond Allerford Bridge to Barnstaple then why shouldn't they do it? Methinks if you had your way in the 1800s we'd be very short of railways in this country let alone across the world :)

    Steve
     
  5. Steve

    Steve Part of the furniture Friend

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    Frugal is the keyword. Extensions and where you go to don't really come into it if you are frugal. I belong to two heritage railways, which ar a bit chalk and cheese. One of them won't spend a single unnecessary penny. It has reboilered three locos in the last 20 years (doesn't time fly) and has almost a years turnover in the bank so could reboiler another if necessary without feeling any pain. It doesn't really go from anywhere to anywhere and doesn't provide a transport service. The other, much larger line, goes from somewhere to somewhere, provides both an entertainment and a transport service and has spent lots on infrastructure so probably meets your requirements but is up to its eyes in debt because frugality is not part of its management system.
     
  6. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Remember Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark"? :- "They threatened his life with a railway share"

    Case Rested!

    P.H.
     
  7. michaelh

    michaelh Well-Known Member

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    So, the SVR should abandon the £millions it has invested in KDR because Paulhitich (whoever he may be) thinks so - what planet is he on?
     
  8. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    When I first visited the W&LLR it ran between LLanfair Caereinion and Castle Caereinion. By the time of my next visit it had extended to Sylfaen and a few visits later it had arrived at Raven Square.
    What is so special about the W&LLR that makes its extension policy sound but the extension policies of other lines unsound? A one way trip on the W&LLR takes just under an hour and a one way trip takes just over an hour - not a huge difference yet you say the latter is too long. Is a journey on the W&LLR too long as well?
     
  9. 21B

    21B Well-Known Member

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    It is interesting to note also that for many years (all the time I was a volunteer there) 60% of the traffic on the WLLR originated from Welshpool, despite the train service remaining resolutely focussed on Llanfair. (which it still is despite having built loco and carriage sheds at Raven Sq). I think that a WLLR without the line to Welshpool would not be as sustainable, but that extension certainly stretched the company financially.

    Regarding the MHR, the railway may have extended in haste, but high inflation causing a cost overrun on the extension was a large part of the problem. Were they wrong to persevere? Possibly, but when you've started, and the costs are increasing do you finish the job as fast as possible, or stop and waste the investment you've made so far?

    The MHR without the Alton extension would today be not much less expensive to operate and be missing out on the 50% of traffic (or at least a proportion thereof) that originates from there. An increasing proportion of the Alton traffic comes from a mainline connection we wouldn't have. So whilst it is true to say that the initial receipts didn't cover the cost of the extension (and I don't think it was expected that they would, at least not post inflation) I don't think it is fair to say that the railway hasn't benefited over the long term from the extension. Infrastructure is always about long term gain.

    On the point about the Mid-Hants relying on equipment it doesn't own. I don't think ownership is the real issue, though of the 7 locomotives in steamable condition, 3 are owned outright by the railway and 2 are on long term loan from the NRM. The issue is ensuring that the relationship with the owners is good and mutually beneficial, and that is what we are building. We don't assume responsibility for the maintenance of things we won't get full use from.

    The MHR has come a long way over the last 30 years, and further still in the last 10. It is always willing to look critically at itself and learn lessons for the future, and that is a strength which will I think go a long way to ensuring its sustainability.
     
  10. 21B

    21B Well-Known Member

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    A further thought is this: you might extend, not to increase the numbers of passengers, but to defend against a fall, as a result of changing demographics or modes of travel to get to the line.
     
  11. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Absolutely nothing at all and I never said there was (I only mentioned my erstwhile involvement when someone else did). However this involvement did demonstrate to me that, like it or not, most visitors come by car and the length of run has relatively little effect on numbers visiting whilst having substantial effect on capital and revenue costs. The real lesson of the W&L is "realise you have no money and act accordingly". Don't run more trains on more days than the traffic will bear. It's surprising how much money gets released for capital renewal if you are careful with revenue expenditure but it is over a long period and patience is needed. I am not saying "Don't extend per se". Just don't use spurious reasons for doing so and realise it will have a cost.

    As I understand it, an example of the chimera of chasing the mainline connection in order to get business comes from the Isle of Wight. Despite the insular location forcing many potential visitors from their motor cars, Smallbrook Junction takes much less revenue than Havenstreet. Doubtless IOWSR people will correct me if wrong. I hasten to add this is not meant as any kind of criticism of the IOWSR which to me is one of the most admirable tourist lines

    In other words it is back to my mantra. Steam railways are entertainment/tourist attractions and not public transport facilities. It is hopelessly romantic and possibly financially dangerous to suppose otherwise.

    P.H.
     
  12. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Don't kid yourself Simon. If personal motor transport no longer exists, neither will tourist railways.
    Paul H.
     
  13. domeyhead

    domeyhead New Member

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    Paul that is sophistry. I am not aware of anyone on this thread even inferring that they believe preserved railways to contain some element of public transport in their own business model, but with a mainline connection they do enable public transport to figure in the visitor's journey, which is entirely different. Extensions are partly about expanding the product and the offering and partly about enhancing opportunities. The basic driver as for any business is change or die. Any thinking preservationist will tell you outright that under the terms of a light railway order a public transport service is impossible in the modern era. You need to name one that believes it is going to survive using public transport as part of its operational model.
    Out of interest prior to extending to Alton the Mid Hants pulled in around 80k visitors per year, with no growth to speak of. After the extension there was a step change to 100k the following year and organic growth thereafter as facilities improved and events diversified. Visitor numbers now hover round the 120k mark - a figure impossible to achive with the old 4 mile run. Interestingly the line's infrastructure costs did not increase proportionate to the new line length - because much of the costs are fixed. More importantly the extension enables the spend-per-customer to increase. The mainline connection has helped enormously in time spent onsite. The connection only contributes 5% directly to overall ticket sales but the 5% is concentrated in attractions that diversify the railway's offerings such as the Real Ale and dining trains, where up to 50% of the attendees can arrive by train.
    There are signs of circular arguments creeping in now. The only message to any railway - is "Make the business case. Do the modelling. Observe real world experience, apply it to your own situation". Regardless of what enthusiasts discuss in threads I am not aware of any railway's management strategy that did not do those things.
     
  14. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    Has anyone on here claimed otherwise? I think not. Some heritage lines do play a small part in the local public transport arena but I doubt any would claim that it's their sole raison d'être and build their business case around it.
     
  15. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    Trawl back through this thread and you will see several postings which come perilously close to this. In an age of personal mechanical transport it matters little exactly where you run to and from provided it is in a certain geographical area and is a reasonably agreeable experience.

    PH
     
  16. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    That ignores the different types of visitor to the IoWSR. For a holidaymaker on the Island for a week with a car, Havenstreet is the obvious starting point - neither of the other stations has a car park! So Havenstreet is bound to have the highest ticket sales. But for a mainland-based visitor coming over for a day, Smallbrook Junction makes life very simple - ferry, Island Line and IoWSR services all connect neatly. Without that extension, a Havenstreet to Wooton line wouldn't amount to much and would be awkward to reach without a car, to the extent that for many mainland people, it wouldn't be worth the trip.

    It's a bit like arguing that because (pre-East Grinstead), the Bluebell's ticket sales were in the ratio SP:HK:KC about 80%:15%:5% that therefore there was no point extending beyond SP station limits!

    No, I'd disagree. Even ignoring the relative visual charms of different parts of the country, in an age where most visitors arrive by road, good connectivity to the road network is key. Just re-read the Talyllyn thread (!) where at least one of the factors concerning their visitor numbers seems to be their relative isolation from good roads. Ditto the WSR, where having their main starting point just a few miles from the M5 gives them a much better proposition for car-borne visitors than running, say, Williton - Minehead with another 20 minutes journey time each end of the day for each car-borne visitor.

    Tom
     
  17. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    The message was never going to be a welcome one. I stick by it though
    P.H.
     
  18. domeyhead

    domeyhead New Member

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    Faie enough, but the only people you are arguing with are those who are not involved in decision making roles. So argue away.
     
  19. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    No more welcome than you find the counter arguments. With all this expertise I'm surprised you haven't applied for a top job in the heritage railway sector or have you?
    I agree with jamesquared regarding the IoWSR. Pre extension days it was a pain in the backside to get to from the mainland. The Solent is an expensive bit of water to cross with a car so a visit relied entirely on public transport but once the railway extended to Smallbrook a day trip from the mainland was a much easier proposition. Not only that but not everyone who holidays on the IoW takes a car so a connection to the main network made sense from that point of view as well.
    The KESR extension to Bodiam also made sense IMO. There's booger all to do at the previous termini of Rolvenden, Wittersham Road and Northiam but Bodiam has a major tourist attraction.
     
  20. paulhitch

    paulhitch Guest

    I hadn't intended to say any more on this thread save that you appear to have fallen into the classic trap of assuming everyones habits are as your own. For example, when I go to the Isle of Wight railway it is normally via Smallbrook. It would then be easy to hold forth that that is what most people do. The fact is that they don't.

    PH
     

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