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Spa Valley Railway - Latest News

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

  1. The Gricing Owl

    The Gricing Owl New Member

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    Many thanks indeed @Jonnie for posting that info. It helped maintain the momentum of yet another wonderful Spa Valley Railway event.

    And, for me, it provided the opportunity to get to what is probably the best I can possibly do to in one of my comparisons with steam loco photos I took in the 1960s with photos I am taking in the heritage era.

    A very low res first edit of that comparison is attached, comparing a photo I took at Groombridge Junction on 24 April 1962 (I have posted it earlier on this thread) with the one I took there today. Without Jonnie's update this morning I wouldn't have known the first train was going to be doubleheaded BR standard class locos, and I would have gone straight to TWW to catch the second train of the day.

    Fingers crossed the Railway made some money this weekend - that was most certainly deserved IMHO. Train loadings looked variable at times, although the cheese train yesterday ( I think that was what it was) and the aftenoon tea train today, both of which used part of a normal service train, looked to be close to sold out if not totally sold out. I'm rather partial to decent cheese and I shall be looking to see who I can entice to join me on one before too long!

    Bryan B

    104-Groombridge-Jctn-800xx+80031-24April-1962-78019+80078-18Feb-2024.jpg
     
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  2. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    Hello everyone,

    Sorry for the lack of updates recently but here is the outcome from the recent events that have taken place.

    Bluey
    At the end of January saw the visit of Bluey on 27th & 28th where a total of 378 people visited on Saturday 27th and 415 people visited on Sunday 28th, this was further boosted by dining experiences, we operated a train on Burns Night which was highly successful carrying 67 people, a Cheese Train carrying 57 people, a Cream Tea for 41 people, 2 people driving DEMU 1317 and 4 people came along to drive ‘257 Squadron’.

    Profit from the Bluey weekend came to £7,596.95 which was very good, when this is broken down the dining trains did of course help this weekend make money but if Bluey on its own is taken into consideration 793 people came to see the character and on its own it took in revenue from ticket sales of £7,585. With the cost of the character hire and the use of the steam train, the profit from the Bluey element came to £3,325 for the two days.

    PAW Patrol
    The following weekend saw the visit of Chase and Rubble from PAW Patrol, this event attracted over both days 425 on Saturday 3rd and on Sunday 4th 293. This was further boosted by 51 people for Fawlty Towers dining and another 4 people driving ‘257 Squadron’. Profit from this event came to £3890.43 on the Saturday and £257.46 on the Sunday when we had no dining. The Saturday profit was helped of course by Fawlty Towers but ticket revenue to see Chase was £4,081, with the cost of operating the train and the appearance this leaves a profit from that element of the event of £1,196.

    Winter Steam Gala
    Onwards to the big event, and I’m not sure how to present this as on the face of it the event really was fantastic, whilst there were delays and we had to cancel one train it did do us wonders in terms of showing what we can do.

    We put out four big ‘mainline’ steam engines, which is the first time we’ve ever done this, we also saw the launch of Lady Ingrid into public service and the team effort that went into making the event happen really was the best of the Spa Valley Railway with many volunteers putting in extra hours to get the 2MT examined, the 4MT back into service and all the behind the scenes tasks that take place to bring in extra revenue such as catering. An enormous thank you must go to everyone for what you did to make the event possible, we put on a show and the comments online despite delays etc. have been very positive.

    Money then… figures… what did the event do, you might be surprised at this, I must admit I am, and I still don’t know what else we could have done to bring in more visitors, if anything. Over the three days we saw 855 people visit for the Winter Steam Gala, this was boosted up to 930 people by the dining trains, however, these dining experiences sold out last year before the Steam Gala was announced.

    Ticket sales revenue came to £23,590 and then the costs come in… basic costs for part of the event came to £23,250 before our other daily costs are taken into consideration such as Eridge, carriages, insurance and other funds which are split out over each operating day.

    With the addition of dining trains, the weekend itself did breakeven by around £570 so it did not, and I cannot emphasise this enough, it did not make a loss and I hope what it did for the railway on the face of it will be just what we need to keep our momentum going. I’ve had very favourable comments from various editorials and emails sent to the railway thanking us for what we did, as despite the not huge amount of money being made, we gave people a thoroughly enjoyable time.

    I had held off writing a report on the Winter Steam Gala as I first wanted to see how the BR Standard Weekend did and sadly, it didn’t do much better and the last-minute change, reducing the service down to a 1-train one last Sunday prevented the Sunday from being a loss maker.

    We carried 335 people on Saturday 17th and 150 on Sunday 18th, this was boosted by 80 people for the Murder Mystery and 65 for the Cheese Train on the Saturday and then 59 for the Cream Tea on the Sunday, again though, these experiences were sold out before this event was announced or put on sale.

    When both weekends are taken into consideration the revenue from ticket sales and dining trains comes to £41,075.50, catering and retail boosted this up by a further £9,013.37, we operate at a 40% profit margin on catering and retail, so the real figure is £3,605.35 in the respect of profit on catering and retail. This gives an income before costs of £44,680.85 for the 5-days centred around the steam events.

    The costs of operating the 5-days comes to £44,197. The additional weekend of course increases the total amount paid in steaming fees, more coal was burned and the lorry to return to the Standard 2 is accounted for on this weekend, which means when everything is taken into consideration the 5-days made a profit of £483.85.

    So, was it worth it, well I personally believe it was. It didn’t make a loss; people did have a great time, I hope volunteers did too, there are no doubt lessons to be learned about future events. There is another Steam Gala planned in July, the one we did in 2021 was successful when the Terrier came along, ‘Sir Keith Park’ was still ‘new’ to the railway and limitations on what we could do in life had lifted but the visit of the Ivatt and the O1 in 2023 really wasn’t what I expected it to be, that didn’t lose money but again, it didn’t make much.

    The steam event scheduled for the Summer has been looked at already as has the operation of the Diesel Gala which too has sadly been in decline visitor number wise since 2019 and too doesn’t make the money it used to. With lorries to move diesels over 100t in weight being upwards of £15k nowadays and there being a very limited market of diesels available that aren’t appearing at every gala already I’m not sure what this event will honestly look like in 2024. The Bury Hydraulic Group were asked about their Hymek and their Warship but they have openly told me the locos aren’t leaving Bury this year (and they’re happy for that to be said publicly).

    So, what do we do with enthusiast events? What do you think? We can’t hire steam engines bigger in the respect of weight on their axles than the Bulleid Pacifics, we were recently offered a large engine for a period of around 4-weeks but our structures (the A26 Bridge and Broom Lane at RA6 rating) could not take the weight of the locomotive.

    I’ve not mentioned it in this report but once I’ve had time to digest it a bit more, I can report on February Half Term. It was not great in the respect of visitors, but it was the first period running midweek in a long time we didn't have the usual dining options. With the retirement of The Complete Lunch from working on the railway we lost the usual Ploughman’s and Afternoon Tea’s we’d put on previously. The Magic Express was a great success on the Thursday though. Onwards and upwards as they say!

    I’m sorry this report isn’t the most upbeat it could be but I’ll finish on a high with the information that Day Out With Thomas is more or less at 50% sold out with tickets selling very fast and the Polar Express which went on sale on Monday 12th February has sold over 25,000 people’s worth in tickets already which is awesome!

    Thank you you to everyone for your support in running the Spa Valley Railway, I’m sorry the Winter Steam Gala wasn’t the most financially successful event we’ve ever done but nonetheless I hope that you enjoyed the show we put on.

    Best wishes,

    Jonnie Pay
    General Manager
    Spa Valley Railway
     
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  3. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Difficult as it may be, your candour in reporting all this in public is admirable. I don't think it's for us here to judge on what could or couldn't be done better, you surely know the railway and area better than anyone else who might offer an opinion. But the honesty and balanced view you have on it all suggests to me you will make a good decision, whatever that ends up looking like.
     
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  4. Johnb

    Johnb Nat Pres stalwart

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    That is the most open and informative report I have ever read, it brings home the cost and risk of holding big events. The answer must be to get more people through the door, easily said but the railway is not in the big league yet and not on everyone’s must do list. My first visit was on Saturday’s photo charter where I think you were the fireman, it was me who had to leave early and travelled back to T Wells on the footplate with you. All I can say to anyone on Nat Pres who hasn’t sampled this line go and do it. It’s a perfect example of a Southern Region branch line, with a superbly presented station at Groombridge and I think unique on a heritage line, the depot is the original 75E building. Thank you for allowing me to have a look around it, the last time I tried to bunk the shed in 1962 I was thrown out!
     
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  5. The Gricing Owl

    The Gricing Owl New Member

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    Thank you so very much for such an open report on what, to me and I think a good few others that I spoke to, were excellent events over two weekends.

    It's very hard to think of how you could have improved what was on offer for visiting enthusiasts, and at least one other replier has already made the point that you will know the railway and its markets far better than we do.

    So I don't know if the poor weather (out of everyone's control of course), was a factor for those who like to travel on the trains and take lineside photographs. And maybe the staging of two winter season events on successive weekends was a step too far; but you will know the economics far better than me of using 78019 with 80078 this last weekend while the 2-6-0 was still there, with such as the road haulage cost going to be incurred whether the loco was used again or not.

    It is shame that so much very hard work by so many at the railway was done for such a limited reward, and I do hope that the coming wider appeal days (such as Thomas and the Easter Little Red Riding Hood events) give you a decent income and a boost to morale for all involved.

    Bryan B
     
  6. Kingscross

    Kingscross Member

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    If the gala didn't make a loss, that should be chalked up as a win. An important aspect of galas is the boost they give to volunteers (I know, not all) and as a showcase to attract new ones. While you obviously don't want to lose money, there are other measures of success.
     
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  7. mdewell

    mdewell Well-Known Member Friend

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    There are a lot of posts on here - about many railways, not just about Spa - along the lines of 'why don't they. . . .'. I hope the people posting such messages will have read and taken note of your post as it shows just how financially marginal big events can be.
     
  8. A1X

    A1X Well-Known Member

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    I also wonder whether there is a mitigation in the gala of the weather forecast (which was appalling up to very shortly before the event) at a time of year when it's very hard to encourage people out of the house anyway. It would be interesting to see whether come the summer (hopefully with sunshine and people more in the mood to spend money on food / refreshments) the extra spend might be a bit more forthcoming. I suppose that's the risk of holding a gala at this time of year, although I do think it is to be applauded as a means of doing something in an otherwise lean time (let's be honest, most lines have shut up shop for another few weeks).

    Personally, I attended and enjoyed the event very much, and anyone who is thinking about coming to the Spa Valley I would encourage them to do so, it's a fabulous line which really puts on a show.
     
  9. Herald

    Herald Member

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    Having never before visited the line I attended the gala on Sunday 11th and like others was very impressed by the event but disappointed to see so much effort by the volunteers rewarded with relatively empty trains.

    I was also surprised to see no ticket inspection taking place which may be leading to some revenue loss.

    Personally I generally don't take up offers of discounted early fares preferring for the railway concerned to get the full amount but recognise that early sales may not always lead to actual attendance if circumstances change and do provide early cash flow which helps with event staging costs. The profit on events may, however, be greatly impacted by early and multiple day discounts and it would be interesting to know whether there is any good data about the relationship between discounts, attendance and the impact of discounted multi-day fares leading to reduced seat availability for single day higher price ticket users. I am aware of several older enthusiasts who no longer attend galas because of difficulty getting seats.
     
  10. Bikermike

    Bikermike Well-Known Member

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    Gosh! Very candid, thank you.

    I think the positives are that overall no loss was made, which means that trains were run, engines kept moving, track used, volunteers active, so there are positives regardless.

    Can you draw up a ledger of "soft" gains? (Eg reciprocal goodwill with other railways, new visitors pulled in, volunteer competencies kept up/improved), they don't replace hard cash, but if you show positive benefits overall it may improve your planning of future events.

    I think the sad (but key) message is that enthusiasts aren't generating enough cash for the events put on for them, which means either a re-set in prices or a reduction in events, or getting meaningful feeedback as to how to draw them back.

    I do think that as long as you haven't made a loss, the fact that trains ran is important, it's a billboard for your services, kit used is not going to seize up, and it reduces the chances of people thinking the track is a dogwalking venue.

    Good luck for the year, and thankyou for the update.
     
  11. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    As I like being honest, with reference to what if we had we done this event in the Summer, the visit of the O1 and the Ivatt tank last June attracted just 605 people, it broke even again but that was thanks to the dining experience that had already sold out before the event was planned in. That to me had quite a nice arrangement of engines with 3 ex-SR locos, two of which are rarely seen away from their home railways. The Ivatt had never left the Island since going there and the visit of the O1 to us was only the second time it'd left the Bluebell so the thought was people would come to enjoy these machines away from their home lines.

    Is there anything more the Spa Valley Railway can do to appeal to enthusiasts? As can be seen above, we make more money getting a character in dressed up than we do with events like this and whilst the event was successful in the respect it didn't loose money, it was the same volunteers operating the event that came in the weekend before and back midweek in half term and the weekend after to run the trains so maintaining competence doesn't really come into it.

    We did this event in the Winter because of as people have said, very little going on and the running in January for us did us wonders, as do other galas at this time of year it seems. I know we're never going to have the appeal that somewhere like GCR or the other SVR has but we can still put on a show on a small railway that isn't that tough a journey to get to by all means of transport.
     
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  12. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Maybe, but I would have actually thought the opposite. Galas are for enthusiasts and we are mainly a stupid bunch prepared to go out in all weathers, and the early part of the year is normally a quiet time, which seems to boost the attendance level of those I have attended. Just for example take the mammoth crowds at the GCR Winter Gala year on year or even the standing room only during the Community Event last week at Swanage (not a gala but an event aimed at those who may be inspired to become one).
    The further you move into summer the more competing events you have from the rest of the tourism industry, let alone other railway galas or themed events and maybe things your family want to do if you have one.
    I had planned to attend prior to my wife's heart surgery being delayed and hence her still recovering, but personally I would probably be less likely to be attracted by an event mid summer unless something out of the run of ordinary galas.
     
  13. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Resident of Nat Pres

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    They were both very good line-ups as far as I was concerned, simply the distance to get there put me off I'm afraid - I know that's not very helpful!
     
  14. Johnb

    Johnb Nat Pres stalwart

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    I’m an optimist and I think it will get better as you get better known. I’d not visited before Saturday but I will return., this thread has probably done a lot of good. You probably suffer a bit by being between two big hitters, the Bluebell and the K&SER, totally unfair because big doesn’t mean they are better, just better known. Perhaps publicise the connection with the big railway at Eridge a bit more.
    As a matter of interest where do most passengers board the train as you do suffer from lack of parking at T Wells.
     
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  15. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Whilst Eridge is way more adjacent of course it was interesting that when I was planning to attend the fare from Wareham to TW via the two Waterloo's was cheaper and the timings better than the more obvious route. I would "sell" both stations so depending on where you were travelling from so people can make informed decisions.
     
  16. Jonnie

    Jonnie Member

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    People still come through Tunbridge Wells West, they always have and probably always will.

    We've never seen a huge return from the extension in the respect of people starting their day out there, hence the Green timetable changing to suit our operation rather than Eridge connections. You can of course still start from there but it really wasn't worthwhile for us and since doing so people now visit all day and the 15:35 leaves well laden whereas the previous 16:15 would leave near on empty. We're rather unusual though in you can get to us from London at either end of the line (albeit the TW end has a 10-15 min walk as opposed to just over a bridge).
     
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  17. The Gricing Owl

    The Gricing Owl New Member

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    I don't know where most people join the trains and I guess @Jonnie will answer that (Edit-he just has!), and he may well know TWW better than me, but I do know there are three smallish car parks close to the railway at TWW. The Old Coach Park, (with a view, just, of the old tunnel through to Tunbridge Wells station) is long stay and the one I use when starting my day at TWW, plus Pantiles Car Park (short stay) and Linden Park Road (Short stay). For those and others, along with prices check https://tunbridgewells.gov.uk/parking/car-parks/find-a-car-park Eridge station also has a car park, which is a moderate size and cheaper than parking in TWW, at https://www.apcoa.co.uk/parking-in/tunbridge-wells/eridge-station/

    Bryan B
     
  18. alexl102

    alexl102 Member

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    This is really fascinating for me to read Jonnie, and as others have it highlights the risks you take.

    I know it’s easier said that done, but could you run a themed gala? Branch line theme, or a regional or something like that? Or industrials when Newstead returns to service? I know the KWVR’S ‘Little Engines’ gala from 5 or 6 years ago is still one of the most talked about when enthusiasts discuss the the best events on that line, and one of the most requested to be repeated.

    I’m probably alone in this but for me, where Caley 828 is a definite draw, BR standards aren’t. They’re everywhere so they’re not something I’d particularly be enticed to go and see specially. But please, don’t take this as a dig at your choice of hired guests; you run a railway and I do not!!
     
  19. Johnb

    Johnb Nat Pres stalwart

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    I arrived at Tunbridge Wells by car on Saturday and one thing that did strike me is the huge virtually unused advertising hoarding, the back wall of the shed. There’s nothing really to capture the attention that the railway is there and what it does. Perhaps something large, a bit eye catching and colourful to grab the attention showing the railway as part of the town’s amenities I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the locals who go to Sainsbury’s don’t even know it exists. If people go home with their groceries thinking, we must give that a try one day then it will have served its purpose. A hoarding on the fence facing the supermarket car park could be used for advertising specific events.
     
  20. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Resident of Nat Pres

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    I expect it would need to meet with the approval of "Angry of Tunbridge Wells" as well.
     
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