Discussion in 'Narrow Gauge Railways' started by brennan, Oct 19, 2016.
Possibly still recovering from her trip down the line locked inside the Tea Van!
I think the cafe / tea shop market is non-trivial, which is why many come and go so quickly. It is hard to meet the needs of both those who just want a cheap hit drink with their butties brought from home, and those who want something more substantial and more upmarket. There is not much space on the shelf on the side of the hill at Abergynolwyn.
The National Trust has really improved their tea shop offering in recent years, and should probably be the benchmark for classier non-city visitor attractions. But they are not cheap, and how many posters have already complained about the prices at the TR cafes?
Regarding services, the long season and multiple loco service is certainly one of the main attractions for me, visiting out of the summer holidays. It is no doubt highly unprofitable though. But if that is what members want, and they are happy to subsidise somehow, surely that is fine while it lasts?
Holiday visitor numbers in southern Merioneth are much lower than thy were, and the area is suffering in other ways too.
The railway is over a century and a half old, half of that now in preservation. It has had to adapt multiple times, and will have to in the future.
If there isn't much room on the hillside, how about a funicular down to the village?
At what cost? I'm struggling to understand how a possible catering underperformance would be helped by having to build and run an additional facility.
If I had the slightest talent for catering or business, I might offer to take on the Abergynolwyn station cafe. Pretty much paradise, in my opinion!
There was one once upon a time.
The quarry was a fascinating place up to the end of the 1960's/early 1970's when the Forestry Commission demolished the buildings and planted conifers accross the site. Good sawn slate blocks from the quarry buldings were incorporated into the 1969 building at Abergynolwyn.
I walked up to the Quarry in May 79. Demolishing the buildings made the quarry very hazardous. The buildings were demolished in a way so that the site was very difficult to walk around. Just wish I had taken some photos at the time.
That at least explains the idea. It doesn't answer my question about the economics of catering though.
well it's about "value added" Maybe a further attraction such as the two I have suggested or otherwise might have a spin off for the café
Up to a point. However, I don't believe that such a situation can last forever; so the question is, does the TR have a plan for what they will do when that money runs out?
Interested to read the comments generated by my piece in SR, based on the TR's annual report. Members interested in railway company results should look at Bluebell (on the Companies House website), which seems to make a consistent operating loss of £200,000, despite, or maybe because of, the East Grinstead extension. It is saved by its depreciation charges. (And I detect that some TR members think that the café at Abergynolwyn is more profitable than the one at Tywyn but I don't have any data to support that.
They might have a plan (or some ideas anyway) but they wouldn't need to make then public. They would probably mean significant cutbacks in services and operating season. But since they don't need to do it yet, they might as well do what gives them pleasure (and the rest of us too) and does no one any harm) - enjoy running unprofitable trains which are varied little things of beauty, one of the greatest joys out there. I for one am hugely grateful.
I seem to recall (from Smith's Reading Rooms ) that the latest Steam Railway includes a report from the Talyllyn AGM at which General Manager Tracy Parkinson set out a target of increasing the number of passengers on each train by 8 each year over the coming 5 years (presumably cumulatively, so 40 more per train in 5 years time) to address the financial situation.
Hence, it appears the plan is to seek to boost income to rather than mass cuts to services - and hence travel opportunities/capacity to earn fares income - or facilities. This isn't to say that there won't be improved efficiency in train operation as well, but it indicates that the Talyllyn is applying a basic but very sound understanding of railway economics - the fastest and most sustainable way to improve the bottom line can often be filling empty seats on existing services, as there is no real increase in costs but a definite increase in revenue.
Careful cost control is also important, but the reality is that having a usable Railway with the necessary facilities to support the sort of level of train service undertaken doesn't vary to any great degree depending on number of trains run, cutting individual departures can make steaming a loco inefficient - and result in asking volunteers to travel long distances and spend half the shift standing at a terminus - and many departures will have average loadings which make running them worthwhile yet would still be able to take more passengers without needing extra trains (or even vehicles if train lengths are pretty fixed/need to be as they are for other parts of the operating day).
Some get very hung up over the key issue being the fare level, without realising that say 275 passengers at £10 per head brings in less than 350 at £8 despite the 25% greater fare - elasticity of demand is largely unknown and hence big price rises are very much an 'act of faith', while any declared intention of 'deterring passengers with higher fares' can not only bring unpredictable direct results but could have 'interesting' impacts on secondary spend and willingness to contribution to appeals etc. and cannot be assured to 'take more by doing less'.
'Less resource intensive operations' are also largely a fantasy because they all need the full length of the Railway unless some-one is going to propose closing part of an existing line or ceasing an existing operation, and risk the assoociated wrath of the membership! That isn't to say existing service levels cannot be delivered more efficiently in many cases by mild tweeking, but either something will be lost (and this may provide a better net financial result) or the reason for current methods of opertainmg may be the careful rearig of 'sacred cows', whcih are, as anyone involved with preservation knwns, a proitected species!
The Talyllyn seem to be adopting a sensible and phased approach to dealing with their deficit and I wish them well with it.
Peter, I would advise "making for the hills" as this sort of message when uttered by others (including myself) has not been one appreciated by the gricer fraternity, who tend to think in terms of length of run and "big chuffers"! It really bugs me to see income from bequests and the like being put to subsidising operating losses rather than funding capital renewals. I would not wish to single out the T.R. for this, or the Bluebell for that matter.
This sounds rather too much like "preserving a preservation society" to me. The irony is that a simpler, easier and cheaper to run organisation would more resemble (without the dereliction) the pre-preservation T.R. than the setup developed to handle a level of traffic which no longer exists.
I can only agree with @paulhitch that bequests should not be used to prop up losses, but I have heard ' don't expect operating to break even and the 'Charity' income should make up the loss' said to a Railway Board in the la 12 months.
I have less of a problem with Appeals for major infrastructure renewals or loco overhauls, because because can (should) both provide long term benefits an those donating to an Appeal know what their money will be spent on.
As I have said above, major service cuts are a fools errand because all they do is spread fixed costs across fewer income earning trains. That doesn't stop the 'Easy life' brigade thinking this is the answer and not the start of a spiral to no services at all!
I would agree with Paul that for many many years the TR has been run apparently for the benefit of it's members who bail it out . There is no problem with this as some TR members are very generous and have deep pockets. This is nothing new - I remember Don Heath telling me in the early 1980s that the TR relied on a few major donors to keep it going and pay the staff during the lean months of the winter etc. However this is not a good business model. But so long as the TR members (or some of them) have deep pockets a grip on Steven's good accountancy takes a back seat.
Passenger journeys have plummeted since the early 1970s, yet the infrastructure and stock remains pretty much the same. The layout at Abergynolwyn was designed on the basis of the late 1960s passenger figures, and with the huge signal box and very long platform and overlay in one direction of trains.
To pick up on Andrewshimmin's point, Abergynolwyn is an often very windy and rain sodden place to be. The punters are forced into the cafe for the dwell time in the timetable whether they like it or not. It has nothing more of interest. The whole business plan and timetable is set around this anomoly of detraining all passengers at Abergwynolwyn for an enforced stop at this god forsaken place!
Few places are of much interest when they are windy and rain sodden and there's no shortage of comparable god-forsaken places in such conditions. In my experience, passengers appreciate the opportunity for the 'restrooms' and some light refreshments. In less challenging weather, there's usually a fair amount of interest in the loco, more so when there's a passing train. A few pleasant, though slightly strenuous, walks can start there too. I expect that the café there does OK most of the time. Not sure what one could do to make the place more exciting.
I like Abergwynolwyn, I like the pause there, it's all good. If you alight there on the up journey and linger, it appears there is a lot happening and you get the place to yourself pretty much for a few minutes.
the shop could be better stocked I suppose, but then I'm not a fan of the predictable stock carried in most Railway's shops (although Mrs General likes them better than the trains as far as I can see)
I am a bit dismayed at this thread, when you aren't involved everything looks so rosy, no doubt other lines are in the same situation.
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