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West Somerset Railway General Discussion

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

  1. free2grice

    free2grice Well-Known Member Friend

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    If anyone would care to read 'The official e-newsletter of the WSR', here it is. <BJ>
    https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/userfiles/userfiles/file/2020-11 newsletterLASTFINAL .pdf
     
  2. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    I doubt that you will find anything on the ORR website to this effect. However, if you have attended the occasional HRA seminars in the recent past you will have heard the ORR making such a statement on more than one occasion. If you talk informally to a Railway Inspector over a pint in the pub, you will also find that this crops up in conversation. The ORR are very concerned that heritage railways are governed by people who have the requisite knowledge to run a railway properly. Don't think that this duty can be discharged by simply employing a competent operations manager/general manager/civil engineer/etc because these people do not have the ultimate responsibility. I have had an interesting conversation today when this subject again arose and one of the points raised was that the WSR affair is having a knock-on effect with the whole heritage railway movement because the ORR are becoming concerned that it is not just the WSR that is being mismanaged in this way but the poor management at board level might be more prevalent throughout than they thought.
     
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  3. John Palmer

    John Palmer Member

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    Tom, I'm grateful for your considered response. The contrast is striking between the Bluebell, where membership and company seem broadly to be in harmony, and the West Somerset's parlous financial position. Having known little about the WSR's developing problems until I learned of the S&DRT's ejection, the discovery that a permanent way renewal programme had not been put in place many years ago left me quite incredulous; it is an indictment of the Railway that this was not identified as a major cause for concern years before the problem attained crisis proportions.

    It seems entirely possible that rapid turnover in the management of WSR constituent bodies played a part in diverting attention from the growing permanent way renewal problem until it could no longer be denied. But at that point the Railway's financial predicament was overlaid by an entirely fresh crisis stemming from the current plc management's response to it, namely the ousting of the the S&DRT from Washford on the pretext (according to the plc board's 24th February 2020 statement) that the Trust had declined to agree an increase in the rent it paid to a more meaningful level, and “That had to change.”

    So, having had no responsibility in the first place for the Railway's failure to make adequate provision for future track renewal, the S&DRT then became collateral damage to that failure because it declined to contribute adequately, in the eyes of the plc board, to the cost of making it good. It is scarcely surprising that this has provoked such an outcry, and one that further exacerbates the WSR's financial problems because its effect is to alienate support from the very body of people most likely to donate towards their relief.

    It simply beggars belief that a supposedly astute plc board failed to anticipate that its ejection of the S&DRT from Washford was accompanied by the risk of consigning the plc to the naughty step of the heritage railway world.

    Apart from the possibility that rapid personnel turnover has made a contribution to the WSR's current problems, I have difficulty seeing how organisational considerations can have had much bearing upon them. Rather, those problems seem to stem from myopia or absence of imagination on the part of successive generations of railway management as regards the track renewal issue, as now compounded by the breathtakingly inappropriate response of the current plc board in its treatment of the S&DRT. These are failures that reinforce my thesis that the West Somerset has been plagued not so much by a bad organisational structure as by appalling bad luck with the competence of its management.
     
  4. Andy Norman

    Andy Norman Part of the furniture

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    That’s interesting.

    If that’s the case I can see the logic in the ORR’s thinking in order to avoid any potential conflicts with expert staff being overridden by in-expert Directors above them who either maybe following a different non railway operating remit or just not knowing because they are not good enough or experienced enough, which could lead to be a real potential risk to safety and could bring HR issues (because disputes would occur as knowledgeable operational line managers felt it necessary to protect themselves against the things they could see happening but their bosses couldn’t) which would lead to a high turnover of operational staff because they all could get frustrated and leave before they got caught in the middle, thus reducing any railways corporate memory and skill level.

    That being the case it seems to lead further toward @Jamessquared version of a good structure because unless I’m mistaken you can achieve both requirements of regulation and member control with that or have I misunderstood it ?
     
  5. FrankC

    FrankC Well-Known Member

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    Yes you are correct regarding the formal process but I have been told how it was initiated. We chose not to attend what we perceived to be a “kangaroo court”. As Ian says, let’s move on.
     
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  6. fred

    fred New Member

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    Had heard similar hence my comment some time ago regarding contagion of heritage railways and HRA disrepute.
     
  7. Gladiator 5076

    Gladiator 5076 Well-Known Member

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    Maybe a valid question is that if that is the ORR view then why is it not stated as such?
    In aviation (my background) you will have either an appointed safety director and engineering director who has ultimate say back to the CAA/FAA/EASA (delete as applicable), or both, and although they may not be running the company, they are the ones held responsible for any failure, accident etc and given the delegated power to make those things happen.
    To me as a layman it would appear to be an ORR abdication of responsibility if that is indeed their view & they are only prepared to share it "over a pint"
     
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  8. 5914

    5914 Member

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    It should not need to be said by ORR as it is a central principle behind the ROGS regulations that were introduced in 2006 - which made it crystal clear that it was the duty of directors to ensure that appropriate systems and controls were in place to ensure the competence of all involved from director level down, and that safe systems were in place and monitored for all safety critical aspects of operation. ORR duty in this respect is effectively to audit and verify that the resulting Safety Management Systems are in place, appropriate and functioning as expected - as set out in the compliance section of the ORR website: https://www.orr.gov.uk/guidance-compliance/rail/health-safety/laws/rogs/compliance

    ORR concern at this within the heritage sector is nothing new. I remember a conversation with two inspectors in my then office a little after the introduction of ROGS (and no where near WSR!) who, whilst complementing what they saw and making some constructive suggestions for modification and improvement, commented that this was far from their normal expectation on visiting a heritage railway and that they were generally far more worried about the safety culture of management on heritage railways than any company operating at 125mph on the national network.
     
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  9. Andy Norman

    Andy Norman Part of the furniture

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    Taking your line of thought to the next step onto: What do we need to do to recover? It’s always been clear to many of us close to it that the WSR needed a fully balanced financial recovery plan. The current PLC Board announced and actioned their plan and now have said loudly to all “we have turned the WSR around, look a £900k loss is now a £360k profit” (all Pre-Covid). The latest full accounts just released today at face value show a good story, and indeed some good things have been done, but.

    The last 3 sets of accounts show as operating profit
    • 2017 (Jan-Dec): £39,000 Profit,
    • 2018 (didn’t exist because the accounting period was extended to 2 closed sessions and one open to change to Apr-Mar).
    • 2019 (Jan 2018-Mar 2019): (£907,000) Loss
    • 2020 (Apr 2019-Mar 2020): £361,000 profit
    Turnover in 2017 was £3.2 Million, 2019 £3.4 Million and 2020 £2.8 Million

    Note: The accounts say you can’t compare 2019 to 2020 as they are not comparable timescales.

    I’ll skip over how you move from £39k up, to £907k down and then £361k back up again in 3 years without much actually changing in physical terms on the ground apart from staff cuts seen below.

    To me this looks like the next set of issues considering a lot still needs to be spent on the infrastructure despite donations in the last 12mths. Is a rapidly falling income stream (£400k) perhaps due to cost cutting?

    An increase in operating profit is only a small part of the picture especially when you have cut £600k off the staff costs between 2019 and 2020. To me at first glance of today’s results I think I can see that cutting staff and thus operating ability (most marketing people removed for example) has also had an adverse effect on turnover.

    Does this show a potential of a ‘race to the bottom’ of reducing turnover leading to further cuts to keep operating profit showing a positive figure which leads to a further reduction in costs (staff) until you out strip your financial ability to keep up with the other fixed costs let alone the track investment needed.

    All of this is pre-covid so that doesn’t effect anything here and I would say some cuts in a recovery plan were needed so I’m not saying everything was wrong, I’m just looking at moving forward from this point now.

    Ahead is a need to increase turnover, keep costs under control & spend much more on the infrastructure. The need to inject other income streams such as grant funding, legacies, volunteer input (time and money), etc.etc. to keep the pressure off a farebox potentially dropping is key in addition to getting the farebox back to where it was at the very least.

    Again we only have one shot at getting this right now so I guess the question is does a structure change alone do that or are we back to needing to get luckier with people as well ?
     
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2020
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  10. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Please re-read my post. They are not only prepared to share it over a pint. They have made the point on more than one occasion at HRA seminars when the great and good (and me) who manage the heritage railway movement are generally present and listen to their keynote speeches. It is interesting to talk to them more informally over a pint or even a cup of tea, though. However, I tend to treat such as confidential.
    You have mentioned a safety director and an operations director, both of whom should be on any heritage railway board. However, it is important that they have sufficient knowledge to undertake these roles and are not simply names nominated by the chairman of a board elected on popularity.
     
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  11. RailWest

    RailWest Part of the furniture

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    I know of one heritage railway where it was stated once by a Board member that the railway's SMS only applied when the railway was operating, despite the fact that even on non-operating days it was still open to the public. To my mind this displayed a fundamental failure to grasp the over-arching need for safety in all aspects of a heritage railway.
     
  12. RailWest

    RailWest Part of the furniture

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  13. granmaree

    granmaree Member

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    They are also moving the coaching stock on Monday 3rd of November .....
     
  14. gwilialan

    gwilialan Part of the furniture

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    Perhaps it was supposed to be Monday the 5th but they didn't want to mention the 5th of November in case some of those awful characters on Nat Pres started the nasty rumour that there was going to be a bonfire... and they were looking for a Guy... or Guys...:eek: ;):D
     
  15. nine elms fan

    nine elms fan Member

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    For now maybe, but will it in the future....
     
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  16. John Palmer

    John Palmer Member

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    Steve, thanks for that. My days as a railway volunteer are long passed, so expressions of concern by the ORR at HRA seminars are, I'm afraid, a closed book to me.

    A point I've been labouring of late is that the concentration in a heritage railway board of all the railway management experience and expertise in the world is of little value in safeguarding third parties against foolish board decisions having no relationship to that experience/expertise. I regard the WSR plc's decision to evict the S&DRT as being of such a kind, because it was one that had nothing to do with the way in which the railway was operated. Given the emphasis on rail safety in the ORR's remit, I would have been surprised to find it casting a beady eye upon heritage railway management competence in matters such as the Washford eviction decision, but what you say leads me to wonder whether non-operational decisions such as this are now attracting ORR scrutiny. Am I correct in understanding that to be the case?
     
  17. Lineisclear

    Lineisclear Member

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    The ORR would be concerned with safety on the site which requires compliance with the PLC’s safety management system. To that extent the effectiveness of management of both the Trust and the PLC in implementing and monitoring that system would be a matter of interest.
     
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  18. richards

    richards Well-Known Member

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    If you truly want to "move on", it's probably best *not* to make repeated jibes and accusations about other people. Or do you really need to have the last word on everything?
     
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  19. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Especially when what you post, is then shown up as being not quite factual when others who have first hand knowledge come up with what actually happened, it at the very least casts doubt on your postings. and de values any constructive remarks you might have to make.
     
  20. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    UMM, When was someone last burnt at the stake in Somerset? did the bloody assizes reach that far, ?
     

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