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What *would* attract you/your family to visit a heritage railway?

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by Chris86, Feb 19, 2023.

  1. Chris86

    Chris86 Well-Known Member

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    Lots of threads discussing the financial plight of a number of the heritage railways around the UK and the difficult times ahead.

    I thought I would start a thread on what *WOULD* attract you, or your family to visit heritage railways currently, and how maybe these ideas could be employed by different railways.

    I'll start with a few observations of my own and from my wife (and to an extent, my kids.....)

    1- A value proposition
    As many folk are experiencing, the cost of living is rising, so a day out at a railway has to represent a value proposition, and ideally need to be a full day out.

    2- Variety
    There needs to be enough going on to keep general public and their kids interested, being able to jump on and off at stations to do different things is an excellent way to do this, but MUST be supported by a regular enough timetable to facilitate this.

    3- Good Value/quality refreshments
    If we are having a day out we usually allow for buying lunch out- especially where the spend can be kept within the railway. Food doesn't need to be haute cuisine, but a decent hot sandwich and a cup of tea for a decent price goes a long way.- we have seen both extremes, the NYMR dining service was brilliant a few years back, however the Strathspey afternoon tea service left me asking for our money back...........

    4- Steam........
    Took my wife , 2 year old and 4 year old out to the KWVR a few weeks back, 78022 and the pacer running.
    4 year old and wife said that they didn't want to go on the pacer (I was wholly in agreement)- I quote my wife "might as well just get the train to Leeds and back if we are just going to go on that".

    5- Friendly Staff
    Again- the KWVR a few weeks back, Kids were allowed a sit on the footplate, given 2 A4 puzzle sheets and the ticket collector punched/stamped their tickets multiple times during the day.....which my 4 year old in particular thought was amazing. Good staff who interact with visitors are amazing and its impossible to put a value on that.

    6- Clean, warm stock.
    Wife was irritated at having spent a reasonable amount on tickets for a day on a (very well known) steam railway a few years back, to find that the carriages we were in were a-Freezing and b-very dirty and scruffy.


    Then selfishly, for me......I like being able to chat with the volunteers and see whats going on with projects, for me there is nothing better than the opportunity to talk to people who are passionate about our hobby and saving/improving/restoring projects.


    Chris
     
  2. 80104

    80104 Member

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    I would like to see more Heritage railways make a much greater effort to represent the period of time (and railway / region )they purport to represent.

    I am not talking about fares, or accepting debit / credit cards or having shops but I am talking about the mix and match rolling stock, modern buildings (belonging to the railway) dotting the lineside, all manner of modern impedimenta around the place (cones, plastic barriers, plastic netting), hi viz jackets where not required, laminated signs (why not use a chalk board), inappropriate period posters / signage especially advertising.
     
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  3. Chris86

    Chris86 Well-Known Member

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    All valid points, but would the above make you more likely to travel to a line for a day out and part with money, or are they just niggles that would improve the experience?
     
  4. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Yes in my case they would make me more likely to visit. Sometimes it appears that HRs care about locos first, second and third and everything else comes last. One only has to look at Beamish or The Black Country Museum to see how well a period of time can be created. Yes these are very big well funded enterprises but HRs could at least make moves in that direction.
     
  5. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Nat Pres stalwart

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    My 3/4 basics for work are:
    • Decent food/Drink
    • Friendly/reasonably knowledgeable Staff
    • Clean toilets.
    Get these right and you’ll have returning customers.

    I’ve mentioned this so many times before but regarding front of house staff, they might not necessarily like or know what’s on the front of the train but they should be able to answer a few basic questions about what’s on the front.
    If they can’t answer the question then rather than reply with ‘it’s a sodding diesel/Spamcan/Gasworks loco’ they should reply with something like ‘I don’t know too much about this one, would you like to speak to this person here?’
     
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  6. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Go into a fish and chip shop and they have a chalk board up saying which trawler the catch came from.

    Is it too much for an HR to have which locos are operating and a brief description (age, purpose, designer, builder etc etc)?

    As regards decent food / drink you could have a separate thread as to what would be "decent" - again some HRs do this well and some not so well.
     
  7. bluetrain

    bluetrain Well-Known Member

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    A key consideration for me is whether the HR is easily reachable - either by public transport or by car. If travelling by car, will parking be easy?

    Another major consideration is whether the railway passes through attractive landscape.
     
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  8. tor-cyan

    tor-cyan Well-Known Member

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    really in all my years of eating fish and chips and living next-door to a chippy for over 20 years I've never seen a board with that sort of information on it, and even if I had would it make any difference to
    whether I would eat there product, "dont like that trawlers name lets go someplace else"

    Colin
     
  9. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Part of the furniture

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    I’d like to see someone try a “Father/Son” or “Daddy/Daughter” day. (No age restrictions!).
     
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  10. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Part of the furniture

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    Duplicate. :oops:
     
  11. 80104

    80104 Member

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    Well they do in both of my local chippys. It doesnt change my intention to buy but it does spark an interest. Sometimes you see parents pointing out the board to their kids as an intro to explaining how the fish gets to the chippy. Both also tell you the type of spud they use for the chips.
     
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  12. Chris86

    Chris86 Well-Known Member

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    One of the ones in Whitby used to, certainly the ones near me don't- having spoken to one of the owners at length about where the fish comes from- its generally Iceland now, it often used to be Russia....less so now unsurprisingly.
     
  13. StoneRoad

    StoneRoad Member

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    Not in any particular order ...

    * Ambience - period appropriate uniforms, advertising & signage on platform etc.
    * Knowledgeable & friendly staff - I would suggest someone extra to operating staff that can turn on the "charm & entertainment" whilst also imparting information for the curious. Also a decent & not too expensive guide book to the line, it's history & the kit available - and not just the engines, please.
    * If you have had child based special events recently - get rid of the tat asap afterwards !
    * It is quite possible to have good value for money catering in a period appropriate facility - but also for a range of budgets [going from hot drinks & snacks to full meals]. Also, more than one location would be even better for longer lines.
    * CLEAN toilets, with sufficient facilities for all.
    * A decent museum, with proper interpretation, which is another place that really needs knowledgeable / costumed staff.
    * More than enough car parking within easy reach, a good trick would be if you "need" to charge for parking, then some or all of that charge can be offset against such things as shop or cafe purchases. [a local pub does this, as their car park gets used by walkers].
    * clean, tidy and comfortable carriages - especially the windows !
    * access gallery for viewing workshops - or pre-booked conducted tours.
    * souvenir / fundraising shops. These need both budget items, branded badges & clothing etc as well as some high end speciality items.

    If your timetable means that your terminal stations / crossing places are without "activity" for long periods, then could I suggest having a station pilot "pottering about" for both photographic and "driver for a fiver" - failing that, a nicely restored carriage open for inspection !

    With the current costs crisis some discreet fundraising will also need to be a feature, perhaps with a display about current & planned restoration projects, or the coal replacements ...
     
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  14. Alan Kebby

    Alan Kebby Well-Known Member

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    From a family perspective, things for children to do. Play areas / interactive exhibits / viewing areas etc.

    If you keep the little people happy, then the parents are likely to stay longer, spend more money and more likely to return.

    The IOWSR is one railway that does this very well.
     
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  15. lostlogin

    lostlogin Member

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    Different groups will probably want different things. if it was just me and my wife we would enjoy a longish trip, nice glass of wine or hot drink in hand enjoying the scenery with a bit of time to look around somewhere, have a nice lunch. With the kids we are looking for a more frequent service which we can hop on and off and do something for a bit when we get off.

    OAPs on coach trips will be wanting different things to enthusiasts, so it is really who is the primary market you are trying to appeal to.

    I think that most "mature" operations have realised these days that the way to increase income these days is to increase the secondary spend of those who can afford it and are happy to pay for it. If you look at the Ffestiniog Railway on webcams their Pullman/first class offering are often well filled even on trains where third class are not that busy. Ultimately you attract business and repeat business by offering which the public see as value for money. What that is though is hard to pin down. I would not want to waste money on a Big Mac whilst others might think spending more than £10 a head eating out is a waste of money in terms yet there are a whole range of restaurants out there which cater to a sector of the market. It is knowing your market.

    On here most of us, understandably, are enthusiasts, the average member of the public is not and cost. refreshments, clean toilets will drive their decisions as opposed to has a great effort gone into representing a specific period of time. Heritage railways are tourist attractions. In the past simply offering a steam train ride was enough for the public to turn up and we could concentrate about the number of rivets. Now we have to think and act more like a tourist attraction which may clash with preservation/heritage aspects.
     
  16. jamesd

    jamesd Member

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    Main one for me - is there going to be much thrash?! Steam or diesel, if there’s no noise I’m not really bothered. I want to stick my head out of the window and hear the loco. Everything else is secondary. As for my wife and kids, they couldn’t care less and will tag along with the promise of a nice meal on the way home.
     
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  17. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Part of the furniture

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    I don’t buy into this thinking. Heritage railways have always been more than tourist attractions. I would think there is a direct correlation between volunteer numbers and moving an operation away from heritage. Heritage railways don’t need to be all things to all people - they just need to do what they do well, which first and foremost is running trains.

    Ever thought about why some theme parks have little trains?
     
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  18. osprey

    osprey Resident of Nat Pres

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    Your last paragraph says it all, and applies to all businesses. If you lose sight of that you're heading for trouble...
     
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  19. Paulthehitch

    Paulthehitch Well-Known Member

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    I really dislike the expression '''heritage''.
     
  20. 35B

    35B Nat Pres stalwart

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    I agree with lots of this. As an enthusiast, I tend to say that I want to visit xyz railway and then negotiate with the family for what can happen.

    That negotiation is based on what my wife and kids will get from the day, what the alternatives are, and a load of other factors. It’s also a lot harder now that the kids are teenagers and better able to insist on their preferences.

    An essential is that the website is clear about what is available at the railway, and that the timetable is clear. That needs to include attractions and catering for “Joe public”; it also helps if loco and stock rosters are available for the enthusiast to frame discussions - if I wangle a trip on the 10:00 and then find that the interesting loco and stock are on the 11:00, the best result is a spoiled trip. It should also give clear pointers to what else is nearby, so we can build a railway plus itinerary.

    As an example of where this can lead, I was on holiday in Pickering and thinking about a trip on NYMR. I took the kids into Beck Isle Museum, and came out to discover that 50027 had been in and out. Had I known it was running (and it wasn’t on website or chalk board), one or more tickets would have been bought; instead, I have a spoiled memory getting on for a decade later.

    None of this should be in conflict with preservation - Beamish demonstrates how the two can be balanced well. My experience of going with family is also that doing “preservation” well helps support non-enthusiast repeat visits, because it demonstrates an integrity of purpose not visible when the railway just appears to be run commercially.


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
     
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