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Heritage Railways near death experience, back from the brink

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Robin Coombes, Feb 21, 2020.

  1. Daddsie71b

    Daddsie71b Member Friend

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    My tongue was very much in cheek
     
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  2. Vulcan Works

    Vulcan Works New Member

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    This is a really interesting topic. It’s important that these matters are discussed, not to be negative or spread doom and gloom but to talk about the future of the heritage industry (because it is an industry!). Ideally to learn from previous mistakes and to encourage the take up of good ideas.

    I agree that there are issues relating to loco policy, carriage and wagon maintenance, the declining skills base and so on.
    Personally I think good management and inspirational leadership is the key. There are always too many plates to keep spinning and never enough money. Plus it’s hard to keep different groups and individuals on side and working together. But a good management team with commercial flair, sensible policies and a flexible business strategy can inspire people to do amazing things, whether it be in cash, time, skills or just spreading a positive message.

    A close second is the need to have good relationships with other organisations and community influencers, especially local authorities. Goodwill and momentum carry a heritage railway an awfully long way e.g. in obtaining consents, accessing funding and in turn, providing credibility when dealing with other organisations.
     
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  3. 5914

    5914 New Member

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    From my experience of the Swanage Railway (over 20 years since the opening to Norden, but less in recent years) the balance of originating passengers was always around the 50/50 mark between Swanage and Norden - those staying in Swanage and travelling to Corfe tending to balance those arriving at Norden and travelling to the sea.
     
  4. pmh_74

    pmh_74 Member

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    I don’t think it’s at all necessary for passengers to originate from both ends. The Snowdon Mountain Railway for example is about as far from that model as it’s possible to be, yet every train is basically full.

    It only becomes a problem if your HQ is at the wrong end.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
  5. Daddsie71b

    Daddsie71b Member Friend

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    I slightly disagree with that opinion.
    A lot of the traffic starting at Swanage has driven past Norden.
    A number of people have told me so, even after I had explained that they park at Norden.
    Its the Swanage Railway, so they drive to Swanage.
    The Purbeck Line branding needs to be re introduced.
     
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  6. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    I doubt it will make that much difference if that’s the level of geographical ignorance. If the Swanage Railway goes from Swanage, it must go to Swanage. Someone who doesn’t get that won’t get the Purbeck reference.


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  7. andrewtoplis

    andrewtoplis Member

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    Probably a lot shorter than we enthusiasts think! Maybe five miles?
     
  8. John Petley

    John Petley Well-Known Member

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    Perhaps it's worth noting that one line which, as far as I am aware, has enjoyed a reasonably steady and harmonious life is the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway - taken over as a complete branch line and less than five miles in length. I'm not a member and therefore don't know what goes on at grass roots level, but I understand (open to correction if I'm wrong) that the management structure from the word go has been (relatively speaking) transparent with good channels of communication. So whether it's the short length of the line, the lack of any extension projects or the organisational structure (or any combination of these) which has led to this line enjoying a somewhat less turbulent experience than some other lines might be an interesting study to include in Mr Coombs' PhD thesis
     
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  9. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    Its obvious that some lines have been very successful when others have languished despite starting from a similar point.

    I think that there has been an element of 'nothing succeeds like success' in some cases IMHO

    That can also of course include the ability to obtain and maintain a good management team
     
  10. andrewtoplis

    andrewtoplis Member

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    Fair point @John Petley , are there any other lines that have not had any significant trouble that provide an alternative example?
     
  11. andrewtoplis

    andrewtoplis Member

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    ROGS is not a threat it is the reality we must adapt to. Very difficult to argue that we shouldn't have proper safety management in place, and our risks can be just as big as those on the mainline.
     
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  12. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Five miles is probably about the limit at which you can run an hourly service with only one train in steam. Get much longer, and you either end up running a less attractive service (ie long gaps); or else you essentially double your requirement for locos, carriages and crew. That is definitely an issue we on the Bluebell have struggled with - weekends are fine, but off peak, the traffic might only justify one train, but a one train service isn’t very attractive. Two short trains would be ideal, but it is more expensive than running one long one, though not double the price.

    Of course, as a longer line you can generally charge more, though not necessarily in proportion to the greater length. A comparison of a 3rd class day-rover (or equivalent) fares for the IoWSR (5 miles, £13.50), Swanage (6 miles, £21); Bluebell (11 miles, £20) and West Somerset (20 miles, £28) is revealing. Presumably all those lines have an understanding of their market to set those prices, but you might note that a ticket on the WSR costs double that on the IoWSR, but has to support four times as much railway. Swanage has always struck me as very expensive, but presumably they know their market - my hunch is they sell relatively few day rovers, with most people going for a cheaper simple return fare at £15.

    There is another concern which is whether you are a “whole day” or “half day” sort of attraction, and whether that has an impact on people’s perception of price and value for money.

    Short answer is I suspect it is really complex, though frequently people seem to assert “7 miles” as an ideal length, but my hunch is they do so without very much science. 7 in fact feels just the wrong side of the one train / two train threshold to me: either be shorter so you can definitively run a viable service with one train; or longer to give a better perception of vfm pitched as a whole day attraction.

    Tom
     
  13. mdewell

    mdewell Member

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    Certainly I base my perception of value for money on how long I expect to spend at any attraction. I would not be happy to pay the same for a 2 hour visit to a short railway with no added value as I would a longer line that would take 4 hours. If however, the shorter line had 'stuff' to do at locations along the line that would occupy another couple of hours then I would be happy enough to pay the extra.
    There have been several railways where I would have liked to have a look around intermediate stations, but did not do so because there wasn't much to do there and I didn't want to wait hour(s) for the next train. So I stayed on the train.
     
  14. michaelh

    michaelh Well-Known Member

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    Both SVR and WSR are whole day attractions but probably different. The whole day on the SVR could be split between Bewdley/Arley/Highley/Country Park and Bridgnorth, whereas on the WSR it's likely to be spent at Minehead.
     
  15. 35B

    35B Resident of Nat Pres

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    Interesting you say that as if at the WSR for a whole day visit I'd probably do the whole line, spend some time at Minehead, then stop off at one or more intermediate stations en route - probably chosen from Blue Anchor, Washford and Watchet, quite likely including a walk up the old mineral line between Washford and Watchet. In contrast at the SVR I'd be more likely to restrict any stop to Highley in one or other direction.

    In neither case am I an "ordinary" customer, but I know the WSR reasonably well and would be revisiting old haunts, whereas I don't know the SVR at all well and would tend to take a narrower view of the day out - but probably spend more time on trains for the same ticket.

    If with the family, I'm drawing on experience of holidays in Pickering, where we've used the NYMR as a form of public transport rather than take the car, visiting somewhere and then using footpaths to join the dots.
     
  16. Evan DMU

    Evan DMU New Member

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    Tom said
    Short answer is I suspect it is really complex, though frequently people seem to assert “7 miles” as an ideal length, but my hunch is they do so without very much science. 7 in fact feels just the wrong side of the one train / two train threshold to me: either be shorter so you can definitively run a viable service with one train; or longer to give a better perception of vfm pitched as a whole day attraction.

    The concept that 7.5 miles is the ideal length for a heritage railway comes from the only academic study that has ever been done on heritage railways (so far). This was called the 'Finance and Economics of Railway Preservation' and it came from the Transport Research stable around 20 years ago. Far from being arrived at without much science the report went into the subject in some detail and produced calculations to support the argument.
     
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  17. Herald

    Herald Member

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    Interesting that KWVR has emerged in this thread as a successful line. One of its core advantages might be the number of attractions at intermediate stations, attractive walks from some stations (when the weather suits) and a short enough route to have a reasonable frequency of service. Another example of length and service frequency which springs to mind is the North Norfolk where a number of decisions in this millennium have boosted visitor numbers significantly one of these being the use of a DMU to boost the service frequency during what might be thought of as quieter months. Whilst from observation steam is much more popular the use of heritage DMU's as a low cost way of avoiding long waits between trains may be significant where a line offers several stations and activities. As others have pointed out the relationship between cost and duration of activity is key to many people's decisions not to mention that by entertaining visitors for longer secondary spend may also increase.

    Personally I have always wondered whether those railways with "issues" actually have them as a result of too little diversity and turnover within the management. Maybe few heritage railway managers have families or non enthusiast friends with whom to discuss what constitutes a good day out and fail to grasp that their own love of steam won't be sufficient to inspire enough future visitors and volunteers to ensure sustainability.
     
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  18. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

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    Are there any examples of 'added interest' attractions turning a line's fortunes around? .... or loss thereof landing a line in dire shtuck?
     
  19. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Do you have a link? Would be interesting to see the cost assumptions.

    It would be interesting to know to what extent the cost assumptions have changed in relative terms in the intervening twenty years. The fact that many lines have backlogs of infrastructure repairs and often smaller loco fleets running a more intense service suggests strongly to me that those costs were historically underestimated; and my hunch is that carriage overhaul costs are being currently widely underestimated. My feeling is that for a long time, too much emphasis has been placed on immediate operational costs, which can’t be deferred; and too little on long term maintenance, which can be deferred for a surprisingly long time but which will eventually bite hard.

    Tom
     
  20. Peter29

    Peter29 New Member

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    The KWVR is perfectly positioned and just the right length so it can be economically operated, and be able to manage infrastructure costs. Key points are that it is close to major centres of population (West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester conurbations) for both customers AND, crucially, skilled staff/volunteers. The SVR is similarly well positioned although is probably too long with consequent infrastructure and operating cost issues to match. The WSR on the other hand is to be honest, not economically sustainable in the long run IMO - it's just too long and is distant from centres of population to access the skilled volunteers needed to keep costs down.

    There is however a massive and immediate 'elephant in the room' that could potentially sink a number of heritage railways completely this year. Has anyone realised the consequences if, as seems likely, the Covid-19 virus spreads to the UK? Or to be more pertinent, the media induced panic of the virus? 'Lock-downs', cancelling of public events, avoidance of public places - all just when heritage railways are starting the new season after winter shutdowns and all in need of the resumption of cashflow. There will be no visitors and railways will have no choice but to suspend operations at the worst time of year. It could be game over especially for those with fixed costs still going out of the door.
     
    Last edited: Feb 25, 2020
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