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West Somerset Railway General Discussion

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by gwr4090, Nov 15, 2007.

  1. ikcdab

    ikcdab Member

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    Please read and understand. The WSSRT does NOT have a seat on the plc board. The person concerned was appointed to the plc board in his individual capacity. It just so happens that he is also a WSSRT committee member, but that is coincidence. The WSSRT was not approached to appoint a rep.
    There have been many dual trustee/directors in the recent past, only one of which was a true rep. All of the others have been just individuals doing two jobs. This is not a problem and safeguarded by proper governance by the organisations.
    Ian Coleby
     
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  2. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    And if and when those individuals' responsibilities to the two organisations come into conflict they must refrain from any involvement in the relevant issue. Question: do they then cease to share in the collective responsibility for decisions? Or are they obliged to resign immediately?

    Returning to the more general problem; there has been more than one instance lately where party A says that they have been trying to discuss an issue with part B, but party B won't talk; while party B says exactly the same about party A. And we have the issue of payment for the Restorations business where both parties agree that the issue needs to be resolved but all of one party's suggestions are dismissed out of hand by the other.

    The petition seeks restructuring, but even before that it seems that heads need to be knocked together.
     
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  3. Miff

    Miff Part of the furniture Friend

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    Potential conflicts of interest are managed, as a matter of routine, by countless organisations and their board members with resignations rarely being necessary.
     
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  4. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I do have experience myself, as a trustee of a charity who found myself in disagreement with another trustee (though not involving any conflict of interest). Fortunately in that instance we eventually came to a consensus, but I was all set to resign if the eventual majority view had been contrary to mine.
     
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  5. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    As well as hating one another, there are rampant egos. Powerful hungry lords of their little fiefdoms, all of whom want to be king. Plus a few ex-fiefs looking on the outside wanting back in as well. Any alliance is just a temporary stepping stone to get there.

    Normally, in such dramas, characters stab each other in the back, in Somerset, that would be too subtle.

    Reforming the structures would mean that some people would lose their positions of power and influence. Do you think the egos in Somerset would allow that to happen?

    There is a more serious point here about trust and bad faith. For reform to work, there needs to be trust. But after the last few years of the WSR, I am not sure there is much of that around.
     
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  6. DragonHandler

    DragonHandler Well-Known Member

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    For a long time this has been my opinion of what needs to happen at the WSR.
     
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  7. Roger Thompson

    Roger Thompson Member

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    But who is there who can, or will, do the knocking, that is the question? The ORR? Somerset County Council?

    Sent from my SM-T590 using Tapatalk
     
  8. RailWest

    RailWest Part of the furniture

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    Too much knocking of heads might well render some of them senseless, if that has not happened already. Meanwhile, the rest of us continue to bang ours against brick walls.....:)
     
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  9. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Think there's a few of us that wouldn't disagree with that at all.
     
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  10. Maunsell907

    Maunsell907 Member

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    Eleven likes as of of now for your posting. But what do you suggest as a way forward ? - other
    than to support the Plc , as a route that offers any hope of an operable Railway post ' Covid'?

    Motherhood and Apple pie' ( or to be harsher 'platitudinous prattle' ) is often comforting
    to the soul but seldom relevant to solving difficulties.

    First let's see the Railway saved; then there can perhaps be a search for some new blood
    and radical thinking. ( A new young General Manager might be the impetus )

    Michael Rowe.

    ps I particularly ponder the import of 'Motherhood and apple pie' utterances when
    they finish with one liners such as "there is a more serious point" here.
    ( Pestiferous slough perhaps ?)
     
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  11. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I am not sure I could ever reach your abilities in platitudinous prattle. But do you see how pointless comments like that are? This is why you are part of the problem not the solution.

    You ask me for my suggestions, having previously dismissed my earlier comments. Which is an 'interesting' approach to take.

    But as you asked, I will respond.

    You have it arse backwards. You won't save the railway without reform.

    This is because the railway currently has the worst of all worlds - some power concentrated in the hands of a small unaccountable PLC, combined with difuse power structures that allow multiple rival factions to emerge. Add in a long and bitter history of backstabbing and mistrust which makes working together impossible.

    You can change the structures all you like but if the people involve are the same old faces then nothing will change because actors can always subvert institutions.

    That said, well designed institutions can constrain the behaviour of actors. You need to find a balance between excessive concentration of power in the hands of a few, potentially unaccountable people, and on the other hand, power structures that are so defuse that you end up with fiefdoms.

    You need to find suitable checks and balances on the concentration of power. You need to find mechanisms to ensure accountability, to ensure that rank and file have agency over the direction of the line, but that are not so unwieldy as to make decision (and difficult decision making impossible).

    You need a culture change. Assuming that if the old guard is removed will change things is a mistake as modes of behaviour and attitudes are already deeply insitutionalised (as you and others so often demonstrate).

    You will need someone who has the personal skills and ability to bring together all of the different factions, who can manage the massive egos in Somerset. You will need to bring these people with you, because the railway can not afford to lose people with skills. However, you will have to manage the reactionaries who object to loss of power or who do not accept the new institutions.

    All of these things require careful design to strike the right balance, they require careful management, careful and open discussion with those who will be impacted by them.

    However, the WSR does not have time on its side and unfortunately, attitudes are so heavily entrenched, and I see very few people who have the skills of manage the egos of the WSR.

    The TLDR for you:

    To save the railway you need to reform
    For reform to be successful you need a culture change
    Good institutional design can encourage positive behaviour/attitudes and inhibit negative behaviour.
    Good institutions need to be carefully designed to strike a balance between the smooth functioning of the railway, and avoiding the twin perils of over-concentration of power without accountability, and defuse powers.
    Actors who believe that they will lose neeed to be closely managed.
    You will need skilled people as well as business and railway managers to ensure any reform is successful and the railway can be saved.

    All the while dealing with the fall out from Covid.

    So, in short, the WSR is in a mess largely of its own making which means that when faced with an externally generated crisis (as opposed to the usual internally generated crisis) it is in a weak position to survive.

    TBH - I don't really fancy your chances.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020
  12. 242A1

    242A1 Well-Known Member

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    To be brutally honest the WSR is pretty close to being done. It was interesting that when I posted my own experience of visiting the line the "supporters" continued to justify what they perceived that they had, that there were no attitude problems, all in the face of the reality. There is a third great commandment "thou shalt not kid thyself" and the WSR "supporters" continue unabated. Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot. Shotgun accident? More like 15" calibre 42 with Cardonald shells, HMS Warspite and Admiral Cunningham send their regards, they would admire and salute such repeatable accuracy.
     
  13. Maunsell907

    Maunsell907 Member

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    All good comforting stuff ! But if the Plc runs out of liquidity and folds. Will any
    of the above be relevant ?

    I am 80 next month: I am certainly not the future: my "modes and attitudes
    of behavior however institutionalised " are irrelevant.

    I remember ( distant but I suspect still relevant ) that faced with turning round
    small Companies ( and that despite their complexity is what Heritage Railways are )
    invariably the first action was to ensure part at least of the Company remained
    and traded.

    'Motherhood and Apple pie' even as neatly wrapped as per your lengthy posting
    is I am afraid in the short term a luxury.

    Let's get the Plc through Covid first. IMHO the Railway cannot afford anything
    that diminishes that challenge. Otherwise your "TBH- I don't fancy your chances"
    will indeed come to fruition.

    Michael Rowe
     
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  14. martin1656

    martin1656 Nat Pres stalwart Friend

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    The problem though Michael is this, if the PLC is allowed to carry on un checked, because as you put it the need to ensure you come out the other side, you may well come out the other side having lost what you, and others have fought to keep, your railway, the PLC will be in a position of unfettered power being able to dictate its own terms to the rest of the family, the WSRA could be the next evictee,
     
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  15. Maunsell907

    Maunsell907 Member

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    Yes, there is that risk, but better to have something rather than nothing I am sure. The
    greater risk of losing everything, ( a poor analogy, but perhaps repairing the spinnaker
    whilst water pours in through a major leak comes to mind ) by not currently concentrating
    on survival transcends anything else.

    By the way, ( despite my "institutionalised behaviour" ) I do not foresee the demise of the
    WSRA whether by eviction or self destruction.

    I also sincerely hope ( indeed I believe ) the S&D issue can be resolved.

    Michael Rowe
     
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  16. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I'm really not sure, Martin.

    There seem to be two somewhat contradictory narratives going round. One of them suggests some great conspiracy to concentrate all power into the hands of the plc, and in particular the chairman. The other is of a railway that is financially on its knees, with a looming infrastructure maintenance bill, commitments to future loco overhauls and many assets mortgaged. Indeed, it was suggested - I have no way of verifying it - that one reason it could not offer security in exchange for the transfer of WSRA promotions was a lack of assets that could be offered that weren't already mortgaged elsewhere.

    It's hard as far as I can see for both of those to be true. Certainly none of the conspiracies about potential property deals ring true to me: I just can't see where the money is. I certainly don't believe the apparent profit miracle of 2019 is anything other than illusory.

    As far as I can see, there are two possible outcomes in the medium term, i.e. stretching in to next year.
    • One is that the company maintains sufficient cash flow to stagger into the start of the 2021 operating season - but if so it is going to be financially challenged, probably for years ahead, since it will somehow need to fund a backlog of infrastructure repairs; recover its assets from mortgage, pay its overhaul liabilities and keep up with the normal operating expenses of loco and carriage overhaul, all from a revenue model that has conspicuously failed to do that for the last few years.
    • The alternative is that the plc doesn't survive - but in which case the creditors get the moveable assets. SCC will still own the trackbed, but any new entity wishing to rise from the ashes will be faced with not only reconstructing a railway, but a legal bill of hundreds of thousands to obtain a new licence to operate.
    Neither is a happy outcome, but the latter is considerably more problematic for anyone who wishes to see the railway continue in a form that is recognisably similar to today. But in the choice between conspiracy and cock-up, I still err towards cock-up. I can't see any viable conspiracy to take over the plc that makes sense, unless somewhere there is a secret benefactor that has a desire to make a small fortune by starting with a large one. Such benefactors don't come along too often.

    Tom
     
  17. MellishR

    MellishR Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Many of us will be pleased to read that and hope that your hope and belief comes true. However an awful lot of aggro and consequent ill will towards the PLC could have been avoided, and therefore a lot of the reluctance to provide money, if only the PLC had chosen to negotiate with the S&D Trust at the outset, instead of first making an impossible demand and then springing the eviction notice. Likewise if the PLC had shown more sense in its handling of the Andy Norman and HR Procedures business. Likewise if a bit more thought had gone into its public communications, especially those that were published and then rapidly amended or withdrawn.

    Bulls are powerful creatures that need to be treated with respect, but they should be kept well away from china shops.
     
  18. Greenway

    Greenway Part of the furniture

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    If the WSR is to survive and operate, albeit in 2021, given the apparent financial state of the PLC, it seems sensible to curtail the operational length of the line. That should assist the strains on finances and possibly allow some form of recovery. All very well proclaiming the lines 'unique' ? length but that mantra comes at a considerable cost.
     
  19. Andy Norman

    Andy Norman Member

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    Thanks for remembering me, what happened to me and others falls under the behaviour and culture issues and in reality are only a side issue at this moment in time. Tom in his above post focuses on the important here and now, in effect saying where is the money going to come from ? Its a fair question.

    The biggest set of people that have been upset here in my opinion by a long way are the Grant Funders, we had two major funders who wanted to invest. The WSR were in line for large sums of money, I've written about it here many times. However upsetting the local education department who hold a major fund with unrestricted money available now and the failure of the HPC Project to complete any activities on the WSR as contracted and funded have ensured that they won't engage even if their offers were welcomed. There is also an MP who has publicly said he can bring resources and other agencies in to help, but yet again he has been turned away and insulted in public.

    As for a hope the S&D situation will soon be resolved, I've kept abreast of the situation and I see nothing that gives me any hope at all that things are changing, including from meetings held in this last week.

    I see things a bit differently than Tom whilst taking his points as logical with lots of sense (as always), perhaps that's because I've been involved with outside agencies who have offered help and I still at this late stage see a way out of this for the WSR with their help. I think there are people who will help the WSR with both resources (people) and money but they have been pushed away in an aggressive manner and need to see change to trust their money would be wisely spent.

    My opinion is a big change now is the best way whilst the railway is closed, allow the outside people to help as they have offered, re-engage all and re-structure so all of this can never happen again. Or of course the other way is as Michael recommends and carry on doing the same thing as in the last few years and support the PLC and hope somebody with large borrowing power saves the day and bails it out with strings.
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020
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  20. Sidmouth

    Sidmouth Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator

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    Out of interest what is the broad mood amongst the volunteers ? supportive of the Chairman and management team or against ?

    It is clear perusing a facebook thread this evening that there are those willing to be supportive too him . The discussion was certainly less than flattering to the window licking , uninformed , trouble making keyboard warriors on here . Before anyone deduces that was not the words of the chairman

    Ultimately I'm an interested outsider . I try to take a dispassionate and objective view . I treat information shared with a sensible degree of caution and ultimately try and substantiate the claims . Like a removed post I have looked at Companies House and other company information pages . You can all do it and it helps frame an image . It is public information which anyone can find and certainly does not fall foul of anyones privacy.

    When three disconnected people tell me three stories and all have the same modus operandi and that is similar to what is playing out here I get very interested . Peoples behaviour I find a never ending source of fascination . I take no credit for this but a good friend shared the Dunning-Kruger effect . Well worth a short read
     
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2020

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