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West Somerset Railway General Discussion

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

  1. Miff

    Miff Well-Known Member Friend

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    Festipedia gives some detail and some information about the Trust Deed is on the FfR site although the Deed itself doesn't appear to be online anywhere.

    I'm not suggesting this solution, which reflects the FfR's early history (when a majority of shares in the FR Co. were purchased by Alan Pegler and then placed into a Trust for the railway's benefit rather than his own) is perfect for the WSR just pointing out that there are alternative non-democratic railway charity structures (the Trust owning Vintage Trains/Tyseley etc. is another) which seem much more successful than the current WSR (lack of) structure.

    The important thing is that the key interests and stakeholders must be represented, somehow, at the top-table in a way that helps to keep their support. A WSR 'Partnership Development Group' supposedly exists but it has had no real power; little influence and appears to have failed to develop an effective partnership

    I like @Lineisclear 's suggestion of a community-benefit society. Both he and @ikcdab have pointed out the difficulty of agreeing a scheme to transfer existing shareholders' rights and powers to a new organisation and the legacy costs of shareholder travel concessions which may continue to be borne by the new charity or a slimmed down 'legacy' plc. This difficulty shouldn't be underestimated but nor should it be seen as an insurmountable barrier. I am sure many shareholders would be willing to follow the example of Alan Pegler and forgo all or parts of their current status & privilege in order to save the railway they love.
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
  2. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    The one thing I would say about the FfR Trust Trustees is that while there is company representation and society representation, the remainder tend to be from outside the railway so they are one step removed from some of the personal politics that can emerge from daily involvement.

    It is worth noting that Mark Smith is currently a F&WHR Trust trustee.

    This is not to say that the FfR is perfect, there have been mistakes in the past with bad hires to SM positions and problems with management/staff/volunteer relations, but generally these have been resolved fairly swiftly.
     
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  3. echap

    echap Member

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    I may be wrong but I seem to remember that one train of thought in the past was that SCC should hold the freehold in case there were any major infrastructure problems, such as coastal erosion, that they would be in a better position to sort out. Would that still be relevant?

    Ed Chap
     
  4. jnc

    jnc Part of the furniture

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    Goodness, so many posts I'd like to reply to, but I can't do them all. So let me pick out the most important ones, and do them...
    I put this one first as it's by far and away the most important one. This is the key issue on the WSR, and any proposed solution must deal with it.

    One can't just wave a magic wand and say 'magic happens with the new structure, and then they'll all suddenly trust each other fully'. It was for this exact reason that I proposed an incremental scheme - because in such a setting as we have on the WSR now, real trust is built slowly, a bit at a time - and the scheme must both allow such slow building of trust, as well as encourage it.

    If a mile or two of track at the Norton Fitzwarren end of the line were sold to the NWC, to start with, that would be a small step that all sides could agree to, because if it blows up, how bad would the results be? Once that has been shown to work (and any teething organizational issues worked out - the real goal here is to get all parties to work together, which I reckon will be easier to do in a context with very limited stakes), then maybe something else smallish, e.g. an engine. Repeat, building trust slowly and incrementally.
    My wife, on reading my opening note, had a similar reaction. 'How do you know the PLC would agree to sell anything?', she said. And you're both right, they might not (in which case we all need to give up). I must admit I'd be somewhat befuddled that they have agreed to hock most of the line's assets to third parties who probably don't care deeply about the line, but wouldn't sell less-critical assets to a NWC they don't completely control. But I still think it's worth asking them, because unless the deadlock is broken somehow (and this idea seems more plausible than anything else I've heard), the line is doomed.
    Your comment reminds me of a bad marriage, where past sins are regurgitated in detail as part of the on-going, never-ending battle. Just like fixing such a marriage, all sides have to be willing to let history go. We're all human, we've all made mistakes. Selah.
    Which is why I suggested that the initial head (while trust is slowly being built from its current -0 level) be someone respected from outside the WSR community (and thus with no history); such a person might be able to garner the minimum level of trust needed from all sides to get the thing off the ground.
    That's an OK long-term idea (not 'great', since the SCC has been an OK custodian so far), but it's pointless to discuss it seriously until some trust has been built up. Talking about it at the start will just distract from the needed focus on getting the NWC up and going.
    Good points, but I'm not sure the debt (and liens) are broken up into chinks that could be transferred piecemeal.

    One might think 'dealing with the lenders directly will take the PLC out of the picture, if they (as speculated above) don't want to sell things'. The problem with that is that it would work directly against one of the fundamental goals of the whole scheme, which is to slowly grow the trust among the various factions (including the PLC).

    Noel
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
  5. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    I understand that were SCC to sell the freehold, it would retain some of the liabilities such as sea defences at Blue Anchor so there are some disadvantages from its point of view
     
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  6. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    Considering the mess the WSR is in, and thinking about the LLR experience of the PLC going under, the difficulty trying to secure things like rolling stock, locomotives, and basics like a JCB to load coal, I am not sure the freehold should be a priority. I don't want to be the person who has to hand coal a manor for example. I think there ought to be more pressing concerns.

    Something else I would add about the advantage of OMOV. It would remove the political function of groups such as the WSRA, WSST etc and allow them to focus their attention on their heritage aims.
     
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  7. Greenway

    Greenway Part of the furniture

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    One thing I have not seen mentioned of late is the ballast reclamation at Norton Fitzwarren. It was supposed to start this year in February.
    It has been suggested that the clean operation would be very costly to the WSRA. Is this another reason for the PLC and Heritage Trust reticence to amalgamate with the WSRA?
     
  8. nanstallon

    nanstallon Well-Known Member

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    As a small shareholder, I would not want my (generous) travel privileges to be an obstacle to saving the Railway, but the big question is who is going to run it? I don't see a long term future under the present management who have yet to explain their conduct as regards evicting the S&DRT.
     
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  9. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    One fear I have is that there is an assumption that if the PLC goes under that somehow everyone involved in the WSR will have a Pauline conversion and start working together, agree a plan quickly, move to it and then rebuild the line. I think LLR was lucky that everyone got behind the plan and the new leadership very quickly. I think with the WSR and the history of infighting (plenty of 'oh but you did that in the past') it seems a stretch to imagine that a single agreed plan on the way forward can emerge or a unity candidate(s) who can lead it forward. A worst case scenario is multiple plans/groups emerging with rival plans who then spend their time fighting one another.

    In post crisis situations often, an interregnum figure is found who has the necessary moral authority for their voice to be accepted by the various factions, they agree to be a caretaker and not to outstay their welcome, to set the thing on the right track and then leave.

    Answers on a postcard if you can think of anyone who can do that in Somerset.
     
    Last edited: Aug 22, 2021
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  10. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Some people (we can guess who) just can not be part of any future and the sooner they realise it, the better chance the railway would have, the hatred just does far to deep, then there is the question of trust, Can any of the warring factions put the past behind them and move forward, and grow trust enough to be trusted, My fear is that some, will prefer to be fighting each other than joining to save the line, and then comes the blame game, and that's going to really vicious.
     
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  11. ghost

    ghost Part of the furniture

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    The cleanup cost is a cost to the WSR. If the railway is to move forward, you need to start thinking in terms of the railway as a whole and not the groups.
     
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  12. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Nat Pres stalwart

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    I've only scanned the last few posts so sorry if this has been covered, but I note that shareholder benefits seem to be viewed as a sticking point. Surely the various levels of free travel are not inaliable rights? There must be some small print somewhere that says that benefits may be subject to change. In an ideal world you wouldn't go about it in a SVR way and complain about freeloading shareholders, but I should think most shareholders have had their monies' worth by now given I don't remember the last time the WSR put out a major shares appeal?
     
  13. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    More to the point, if the PLC goes bust bang goes your free travel.

    Question though, how many shareholders are entitled to free travel, and how many actually use it? That might give an idea as to how many are still in contact with the railway
     
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  14. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    I think there are two extreme positions on priv tickets. At one extreme is the view that the privilege ticket holder costs you nothing (since you are hauling the seat round anyway). So unless you have to either add extra carriages just for the priv tickets, and / or run extra trains, then those tickets cost you nothing to deliver, but might result in secondary spend (plus of course good stakeholder relations).

    The opposite view is that they are an opportunity cost: every free ticket is one fewer full-price ticket sold, and the number looks big. But that does assume that every passenger travelling on a priv ticket would travel an equal number of times anyway at full price. That seems unlikely.

    The real position is no doubt in between, and probably very difficult to quantify.

    If travel benefits are a sticking point, my gut feeling is to be generous with existing shareholders. Partly that is because on the spectrum above, I am closer to the first viewpoint (ie the zero marginal cost of travel) than the second. The bigger reason is that the structural alignment is worthwhile, and it is worth paying a reasonable price to clear impediments.

    I am totally with you about the high hidden compliance costs of share-owning as a means of fund raising. My jaw dropped when the plc put out a press release saying the charitable model was kicked into the long grass but they were investigating the options for a share issue. Knuckle-headed doesn’t begin to do it justice.

    Ultimately I think OMOV to elect trustees (important clarification) is the way to go; the issue is then to set thresholds at which existing shareholders become an annual member of the new organisation (with all rights and privileges ceasing after one year); or a life member; or maybe an “annual+” member, ie essentially an annual member but with x years of subscription before they lapse.

    For SCC, I suspect the answer is that their 500k (?) shares become transferred into the perpetual right to provide one or more trustees of the new organisation - likely the Cabinet member holding the Economic Development / Tourism brief. Similarly, for the WSRA / WSHRT with large shareholdings, they could decide either to fold into the new organisation, or appoint trustees in proportion to their size (say 20% of the trustees each). You might for example arrive at a position, if those bodies chose to remain independent, in which you had 11 trustees of which 2 each were appointed by the WSRHT and WSRA, 1 by SCC and 6 by election from the membership of the new body.

    Tom
     
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2021
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  15. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    Worth making the point that when I had a WSR Annual Pass that as I wasn't paying directly for my ticket, I was more tempted by tea, buns, the shop at BL etc etc so there was extra revenue there
     
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  16. Fish Plate

    Fish Plate Member

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    You were not the only one. Such a clear indicator of the way the present management think and demonstrates why they are spectacularly unfit for the posts they hold. All of this talk of reform and restructuring is utterly pointless whilst they remain in post as they will never accept any form of change; I think the stark reality is that either they go or the railway is almost bound to collapse.
     
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  17. Sidmouth

    Sidmouth Part of the furniture Staff Member Moderator

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    I have said this before and it is worth repeating . The WSR would benefit from all the current incumbents ceasing to play any part , whatever side of the argument they sit .

    some protagonists seem to be able to sit both sides
     
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  18. bluetrain

    bluetrain Member

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    I would be concerned that complete elimination of the present WSR leadership might cause significant loss of the railway's corporate expertise and memory. I suspect that some of the issues of the last couple of years are the result of an over-zealous clear-out of previous PLC board members and senior managers in 2018-9, leaving a narrowly-based leadership that lacks breadth and inclusiveness.

    Whatever structure the WSR has now or in the future, it does seem to very much need someone at the apex with strong political and diplomatic skills, who is able to heal rifts and get warring parties to work together for the common good. But even if such a white knight could be found, would they be prepared to get involved with the WSR? And would the current leadership allow them anywhere near?
     
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  19. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Part of the furniture

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    I think most of us with half a degree of common sense knows that this should happen, why is it I have a feeling it won’t though?
    Until some people take a bloody long hard look at themselves in the mirror, and realise their actions have consequences nothing’s going to change is it?
     
  20. Robin Moira White

    Robin Moira White Nat Pres stalwart

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    That is what happened when we sorted the WSRA out. We principal protagonists followed the Coombes report and sat to one side for a period of years. We now have a WSRA disentangled from commercial operations and able to fundraise effectively as several projects have shown.

    Speaking personally, I would never be a barrier to sensible progress. Unfortunately, there is little sign of those who are, presently, that barrier adopting a similar stance.
     
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