If you register, you can do a lot more. And become an active part of our growing community. You'll have access to hidden forums, and enjoy the ability of replying and starting conversations.

West Somerset Railway Operations

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

  1. Andy Norman

    Andy Norman Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2015
    Messages:
    388
    Likes Received:
    2,068
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Nr Bridgwater, Somerset
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Michael

    I do think that we are closer in our views than maybe both of us realise, certainly you have always had the WSR at heart over a large number of years (certainly many more than I’ve been around) so I write this with the respect you are due.

    I agree with most of your points. Regarding a strategic plan, perhaps I didn’t shout about it enough back in 2018 outside of the WSR PLC & WSRA Boards to the wider WSR Stake Holders so maybe not enough people know. I developed a large part of the strategic plan as I was requested to do by the WSRA, the original remit I was given by them was for the HPC Funding Bid but this grew as the opportunities opened up during 2018.

    The HPC Fund raising was only a part of what I did, I also wrote a fund raising strategy and set out how that would fit within the WSR as a whole. I also came up with the answer to how the structure would need to change and why, how the culture needed to be realigned and how the WSR needed an understood direction and aim, all with the aim of large grant funding solutions to fund larger infrastructure and capital projects.

    I then went out and proved it could work by raising circa £185k from a standing start in 1 year (with no previous fund raising experience), I did this so the ‘nay sayers’ couldn’t say I was talking rubbish and to gain some credibility with my peers. I then consolidated that during the back end of 2018 with developing the way forward to allow the WSR to take this strategy forward beyond my involvement (I’m not the total answer to the WSR’s problems, it needs cross WSR involvement) to open up circa £1 Million per annum of external funding (again fully explained and justified by external fund raisers who set this figure).

    During this period I had buy in and agreement from the PLC, WSRA & WSSRT Boards having worked with them closely for over a year. WSRA Trustees & PLC Board Members had weekly updates and I attended a number of Board Meetings to give presentations. I was during that period the only person bringing all parties together to agree both the HPC Community Engagement Project and the way forward, this also included working with other WSR Groups.

    It was only when the current PLC Board came into being that my work was immediately stopped and I was removed from my roles and removed from being a volunteer after refusing to do some things which in my opinion didn’t align with the core of the agreed strategy which was to ensure the WSR remained a true Community Organisation and was structured to attract large external funding. The WSR becoming a commercially owned and run business which would and has cut off future funding was something I spoke out against (again justifying why I was saying it) and for that I was removed without any process.

    But to pick up on your very valid point. I have my version of a strategic plan which I believe will help sat ‘on the shelf’ gathering dust. It’s not all my own work, I spent a lot of time gathering professional help from fund raisers, organisations and potential new stake holders many of whom were keen to provide funding/volunteers and wanted to be involved. It’s a plan that will solve many of the issues using many peoples experience (including some internal WSR people of course). It also doesn’t take away the ability for the current WSR activities to carry on, it doesn’t detract from people wanting to continue to enjoy the WSR through volunteering and it’s a plan which adds and builds for a sustainable future whilst not throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I’m not going to claim it’s perfect and it’s the efforts of many others (I just pulled it together) but it’s there if the WSR wants to use it. The WSRA Trustees who I worked closely with (you know who you are as all three of you will be reading this post) know its contents and know the arguments put forward to justify why many people, internally & externally think it’s the only way forward for the WSR.

    I’ll happily dust it off and reopen it and come along again and explain it personally but the WSR must want to consider it or we are all wasting our time. At the moment they don’t want to hear and have specifically and repeatedly told me that so I have no voice and they don’t want my involvement. However as you asked I will try and be positive and lay down the offer again to help.

    As for venting frustrations on here, you are right it’s not good to have to keep my opinions being aired and I wish I could stop, it would be easier for me. However like you I love the WSR and despite trying to walk away I’ve repeatedly failed to do that. My issue is I see the WSR’s great potential, I see the potential other investors see through their eyes as they have explained it to me and I see the efforts of many working volunteers being wasted in a retracting organisation.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2019
  2. jma1009

    jma1009 Member

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2013
    Messages:
    870
    Likes Received:
    642
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    ynysddu south wales
    Surely by now, the new PLC accounts must now have been prepared and available? At least to the PLC Board?!

    The current appeal for the track repairs is £250,000, yet a recent statement from JJP is that £400,ooo annually is required.

    A fraction of this has been raised so far with a very luke warm appeal.

    Perhaps the time has come to admit the WSR is not a going concern anymore in the absence of an effective supporters association , the WSRA to 'bail out' the PLC. (The Auditors hinted at this so far as we can glean for the PLC, and the reason for the delayed accounts).

    Perhaps the time has now come to let a TOC take over the lease from Somerset Council and run a service similar to most of the South Wales Valley Lines.

    Cheers,
    Julian
     
  3. alastair

    alastair Member

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2005
    Messages:
    1,080
    Likes Received:
    598
    I really can't see how your suggestion could possibly work. The lease of the trackbed would presumably have to transfer to Network Rail, why would they consider taking it on, given the much-discussed major issues it has? How would any TOC even consider taking over the service on the line unless it was fully underwritten (presumably) by taxpayers money. Given that the whole line is more-or-less paralelled by a (by rural standards) quite reasonable 30 min frequency bus service. would cash-strapped SCC really be able to justify pouring large amounts of money into the line?
     
  4. Snifter

    Snifter Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Aug 26, 2014
    Messages:
    1,076
    Likes Received:
    2,620
    Gender:
    Male
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    Michael,

    I spent 8 years at a FTSE top 25 company creating major cost reduction and transformation plans as part of a small team who enabled major mergers and acquisitions as a result of direct cost savings and accelerated revenues. One of the tools that I use was to create models where the exec could adjust variables and see the potential impact of proposed changes to roles / fully allocated salaries/costs/revenues etc. What I will say is that no plan that I presented to the inner core of the exec was ever implemented and leave it at that. My advice was to lose a limb now and save the patient. It would not have been pleasant for those affected however history has shown that much of the outcome happened anyway but at a later date, with far greater cost and a loss of transparency. My personal view is that inaction at that time is partly why we are where we are today.

    Mr Aldfort,

    Yes, there was a table at the back of the room where donations could be made via Robin and I think I was at the head of the queue. Was it not also said that contacting existing shareholders would have been too costly ? The Reform Group managed 3 mailshots (or was it more ?) to the WSRA membership but then again, there was a genuine desire to involve a wider audience.

    Is it just me who finds it puzzling that no mention was made of the loan at the EGM ? It reminds me of when the 4160 share transfer was conveniently omitted from the WSRA AGM.

    Plus ca change.

    Brian
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2019
    Sunnieboy, michaelh and MellishR like this.
  5. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2008
    Messages:
    16,623
    Likes Received:
    24,638
    Location:
    21C102
    And even if you overcame that, there is still the perennial problem that buses are free for pensioners, likely a large part of the market (especially during the day). So even if you could revert to a part of the national network, what would induce people to use what would likely be at best an hourly service costing a fair chunk of money, when they had an alternative free system running at 30 minute intervals next door?

    Tom
     
  6. Big Al

    Big Al Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    May 30, 2009
    Messages:
    14,207
    Likes Received:
    10,803
    Location:
    1016
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    It's sad to read this discussion. Heritage Railways appear to have an optimum length and the WSR seems to be stretching it quite a lot despite its advantage of having a destination at each end of the line and a decent waypoint half way. In a way it's a shame that Watchet now has no space to reverse trains half way so as to reduce overheads and on-costs for a while whilst maintaining a service from one end.

    I know that the Mid Hants is different with its compensation during bridge works but on the occasions I have visited whilst only half the line has been operational it has seemed just as busy. I've no idea, of course, what in practice that has done to their balance sheet.
     
    Blackdown Boy, jnc, Paul42 and 2 others like this.
  7. DragonHandler

    DragonHandler Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 27, 2016
    Messages:
    1,126
    Likes Received:
    1,319
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    West London
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I think I understand what you're saying, but I don't think the length of a Heritage Railway is necessarily a problem. The F&WHR is a long railway, two long railways really, and both do very well with most trains well filled.
     
  8. huochemi

    huochemi Member Friend

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    1,947
    Likes Received:
    853
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    UK
    There's the answer, convert the WSR to narrow gauge!:cool:
     
  9. MellishR

    MellishR Well-Known Member Friend

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2009
    Messages:
    4,333
    Likes Received:
    2,007
    The ex-6 had a plan for the WSRA and the whole railway. Exactly what they planned was never revealed for certain, but what was known didn't seem promising for continued operation of the railway in its existing form, or at all. Evicting them took several goes, but eventually succeeded.

    Briefly all looked promising, but then a series of disagreements arose, or perhaps pre-existing disagreements emerged into view.

    Then a new broom arrived to take charge of the PLC, and after only a short time in post declared that things were far worse than had been realised, requiring drastic action (or any who had realised had failed to convince others). The negative aspects of the drastic action ̶ selling some of the family silver, banning large locomotives and sacking most of the Board and some other volunteers and staff ̶ proceeded rapidly. Unfortunately the positive aspect, raising a huge amount of cash and finding a way to keep the cash coming in for years, seems not to be happening. Indeed a successful fund raiser was one of those who were sacked.

    To make it worse
    Whatever plan the Board has to keep the railway viable, it needs to convince the railway's stakeholders (including, crucially, potential donors) that the plan is a good one.
     
    malcolm imps, dhpaul, jnc and 5 others like this.
  10. Andy Norman

    Andy Norman Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    May 14, 2015
    Messages:
    388
    Likes Received:
    2,068
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Nr Bridgwater, Somerset
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    A good point by you and #Big Al. The line length again has been discussed within the WSR, it needs to be dealt with but there is resistance to change. I wrote another strategy paper in response to the WSR Southern Gateway Project consultation in March 2017 which covered the issues around this. (Michael Rowe: Another time I’ve tried to be positive and send in a solution rather than just moaning about a problem)

    The WSR has sat in its splendid isolation for too many years not changing with the times, the “we just want a Blue Route country branch line” and “we don’t like change” was OK years ago but now it’s different and the world (and costs) have moved on along with the dynamics of both Funding and Volunteering.

    Taking a step back the WSR has only really offered one product (a simplification of course) which is a day trip to the seaside, it takes a day, it takes people from one end to the other and ignores most of the lines actual attractions and opportunities. Watchet is a case in point, Watchet as a destination has only come about because Watchet Town Council have made it happen, they are proactive and have some very good fund raising through ‘The Onion Collective’ (who recently fund raised £5 Million for the Town’s Harbour) not due to anything the WSR has done.

    My paper set out the issues with the Southern Gateway project (another thing just abandoned by the WSR Leadership) but also sets out a number of positive options and how for not much cost a wider range of products can be introduced, i.e. a half day trip, an educational trip, a community destination, etc. etc. If you couple this with the work on fundraising done in 2018 (scrapped early 2019) and the external fundraising potential you have a blue print to move the WSR forward. To press the point, the WSR has 23 miles of opportunities many of which are already in place and if used correctly could bring more people to the WSR and allow grant funding to ‘unlock’ options for Community use without damaging the Country Branch line theme which is very important as a core of the WSR, but it needs people to believe in that and to actually do something about it.

    The WSR Leadership have rejected these options with the current message being stated to a number of people internally “we are not going to bring anything new in, we are only going to do what we have done but be better at it”. The saying goes, “if you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always got”.

    I’ve attached a copy of the paper I wrote and submitted in 2017, its a bit dated as some things have moved on but if anybody would like some bedtime reading.
     

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Oct 23, 2019
  11. Big Al

    Big Al Resident of Nat Pres Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    May 30, 2009
    Messages:
    14,207
    Likes Received:
    10,803
    Location:
    1016
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I agree but with no particular insight and I hope what people will agree is some common sense, doesn't it all revolve around three factors - overheads/on-costs, length of the line and footfall?

    If people want to visit an attractive heritage line then they will go to it whether it's 10 miles or 20+ miles long. Forget all this stuff about daily/commuter traffic. It's a leisure line like all the others and if you factor in too much importance to income from regular traffic then you are forgetting why the line closed in the first place.

    Everything I've read from a distance suggests to me that 'steady state' maintenance has either taken a back seat or slipped and now there is ground to make up. Perhaps a drastic idea of mothballing part of the line might sharpen up local minds? Some maths on how much is really gained by having the main line connection available must surely have been done already. After all, Minehead to Watchet is a lovely line. BL and Taunton are a bonus but many lines with even poorer end points manage to do well enough so in a time of crisis the unthinkable might have to be considered. As I said, if folk want to visit the WSR then they will go the extra mile or 10 to get there.

    Sorry Somerset. Just thinking aloud. It is a discussion forum.
     
  12. Paul42

    Paul42 Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Messages:
    4,381
    Likes Received:
    956
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    East Grinstead
    Reinstate the loop at Kentsford between Watchet and Washford ( which breaks up the longest section between Williton and Blue Anchor)?
     
    The Dainton Banker likes this.
  13. toplink

    toplink New Member Friend

    Joined:
    Mar 28, 2006
    Messages:
    47
    Likes Received:
    37
    Occupation:
    Signalman
    Location:
    South Dorset & sometimes Somerset
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    Brunel had already done that in 1892 !
     
  14. The Saggin' Dragon

    The Saggin' Dragon Part of the furniture Staff Member Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 15, 2006
    Messages:
    14,820
    Likes Received:
    5,080
    Location:
    1012 / 60158
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    It might well make sense from an operating / economic point of view. What message would it send to the Councils and local populations who possibly still hanker after a joined up railway to the national system (No matter how economically shaky that might be) and whose support may diminish considerably in the harsh light of reality? - Its not something that can be quantified in any meaningful way, but is surely something that needs to be considered (OK thats a paradox)
     
    MellishR likes this.
  15. Forestpines

    Forestpines Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2009
    Messages:
    1,419
    Likes Received:
    1,798
    Location:
    Bristol
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    The F&WHR is a long railway and a very long railway!

    The F&WHR is very good at turning its limitations into advantages, particularly where the WHR is concerned. The railway doesn't actually have very much stock or many suitable locomotives, so its service is concentrated on a relatively infrequent, relatively luxurious service. The loading gauge makes conventional buffet cars a bit awkward, so the result is that almost all seats (those in the corridor part of the train at least) get at-seat service. Despite the infrequent service the line is divided into a lot more sections than the regular timetable would suggest it needs (six block sections when for a normal service there are two train sets in operation) which makes it possible to slot special event services around the regular timetable, like the recent WHR vintage specials. In order to help the railway make more use of some of the locos and stock that aren't suitable for the WHR's gradients, there's a run-round siding at the end of the long mostly-flat stretch at the south end of the line, so that that part can be used for short out-and-back winter services, hauled by locos that have very limited loads on the steeper parts of the line, when traffic levels don't justify keeping the whole line open.

    Whether any of these points can be used by the WSR is another issue. You can't, after all, change geography. Running shorter out-and-back services when traffic levels don't justify keeping the whole line open is certainly something that might make sense. Introducing things like at-seat refreshments, so all customers can have a meal without leaving their seat, is something that might work, but might not justify the cost.
     
    Fish Plate likes this.
  16. Steve B

    Steve B Member

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2008
    Messages:
    1,474
    Likes Received:
    827
    Location:
    Shropshire
    Good points here - I think to describe the WHR as having an infrequent service over it's 25(?) mile line is something of an understatement - for most of the year if you want to travel the full length you have a choice of one train a day! If they are running on that day! For shorter journeys or on the high season timetable you might have a choice of two. Basically if you want to travel you have to accept what the railway has to offer, and the railway has to accept that it may be losing custom by not being able to run more trains. But the likelihood is that doubling the number of trains wouldn't double the number of passengers, at which point you start to look at the economics; would the extra custom pay for the additional stock required, the extra locos in service, the extra maintenance on both of those and the infrastructure, extra staff if not all volunteers, etc.

    The WSR runs something like 4 times the number of trains each day, over a not dissimilar length, but with much bigger and heavier stock, on infrastructure that hasn't all been completely rebuilt in recent history, and without for one moment wanting to denigrate the obvious beauty of the west Somerset countryside, it ain't Snowdonia! I'm guessing a little here, but I get the feeling that the proportion of passengers on the WHR who are there for the journey and it's views, as opposed to those who just "want a steam train ride" would be higher than on many of the English lines, including the WSR.

    The WSR clearly has to get it's economics right - comparing it to the experience of other railways can help, but only up to a point. The WHR has the advantage of being part of the F&WHR, so it can "borrow" staff, locos and stock from the FR to provide some sort of backup when things go wrong, and there are economies of scale. The WSR must find a way of making it work for them. I know it may be fashionable on Nat Pres to roll ones eyes at @paulhitch when he makes his regular comments about viability etc. but he does have a point:- a railway must either find a way of paying it's way, or it's supporters must step in and support in financial terms. But to do that they must have confidence in the cause, and see the point of it, and most might be more prepared to pay for the WIBN side of preservation/heritage, rather than subsidising activities that should basically be self-funding.

    From what I read here (with all the limitations that has) the WSR needs to get it's collective houses in order - I wish you all well in the task.

    Steve B
     
    ghost, Forestpines, michaelh and 6 others like this.
  17. mdewell

    mdewell Member

    Joined:
    Mar 23, 2005
    Messages:
    332
    Likes Received:
    367
    Occupation:
    UK & Ireland Heritage Railways Webmaster
    Location:
    Essex
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    There is a lot of talk on here about trains and passengers (not just Steve B, but many other posters too) but on average income, from trains rides only accounts for around 50% of income on heritage railways. Typically, a further 15% is catering and 10% retail. The remaining 25% is presumably engineering, private hire etc.
    I've not seen any figures, past or present for WSR, but just wondering how they stack up with these percentages. Is there scope for increasing the income without necessarily attracting more passengers (i.e. get visitors to spend more).
    Possibly the WSR is at a bit of a disadvantage in having a destination at both ends as it makes it easy for visitors to have a ride and then go spend their money in town (whereas a railway in the middle of nowhere might not have as many visitors, but once on site they are to a certain extent a captive audience).
     
  18. paulhitch

    paulhitch Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    4,943
    Likes Received:
    2,782
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Hayling Island
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    @mdewell got there before me in my (generally favourable) response to @Steve B . Dare it be said that long runs and B*g C******s can only increase costs and the necessity for sybsidies from other sources.
     
  19. Steve B

    Steve B Member

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2008
    Messages:
    1,474
    Likes Received:
    827
    Location:
    Shropshire
    Thanks for the response. Yes you are quite right that railways have other sources of income, although it should also be remembered that it is not impossible to lose money that way as well if you don't get it right - as at least one railway has found with regard to catering...

    You say it may be a disadvantage in not being in the middle of nowhere, but on the other hand having a station in a prominent position attracts passers by, who may just come to watch, but whilst there might visit the shop/cafe - I certainly have done so elsewhere, although I have no idea how things stack up in Minehead in this regard. Again a comparison with the F&WHR springs to mind - Spooners in Porthmadog has a fairly good flow of customers throughout the day - even when there are no trains around. I gather some even go there simply because it is good, not because of the railway. I hope the same might prove true at Caernarfon - there's a lot of time when there are no trains there!

    Steve B
     
  20. 60044

    60044 New Member

    Joined:
    Feb 24, 2016
    Messages:
    76
    Likes Received:
    114
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Salisbury
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    I'm surprised that no-one has queried the recently signed loan - where has it come from? We have been told that the railway's finances are in such a bad state that no bank would consider making a loan, which suggests it may have come from an entirely different source, perhaps someone who deals in out of date fish? The WSRA ex-6 did indeed have plans for the railway, iirc, and part of those plans were selling off some of the land. Perhaps the same developers are taking the first steps on this path, taking a longer term view, of acquiring the freehold?
     

Share This Page