The April issue of The Railway Magazine contains an exclusive feature from Nick Pigott which recalls the history of coaling towers – the massive concrete or steel structures found at many steam sheds to coal locomotives.
Gary Boyd-Hope reports on the recovery plan for the West Somerset Railway, while Ben Jones looks at the history of Open Access rail operators here in the UK and Europe.
Electric preservation tends not to get a look in, but Nicola Fox visits Locomotion Shildon to look at ‘Project Commuter’, the restoration of the 2-HAP EMU.
Plus all the latest news and pictures – on sale now!
Science Museum publishes operational strategy for National Collection, May start for LNER IETs, transport hub for Birmingham Moor Street, First Group buys Hitachi for East Coast open access operation, Electrification costs could be cut by half, Class 314s to head south for GOBLIN?
Track Record The Railway Magazine’s monthly news digest
70 Steam & Heritage
Black Prince withdrawn for repairs, ‘B1’ and ‘Caley’ tank for Gloucs-Warks gala, quality control issues for new-build ‘Patriot’, £100k required to complete ‘Duke’ by 2020, Swanage launches ‘T3’ restoration appeal.
78 Steam Portfolio
82 Narrow Gauge
84 Heritage Trams
98 Classic Traction
107 Traction & Stock
Refurbished Class 333 debut, ScotRail hands back Class 365s, GBRf and DCR buy stored Class 60s, GA receives first 12-car ‘FLIRT’, TfW Class 769 deliveries begin.
110 Traction Portfolio
112 Stock Update
45 Up and Down Lines
45 Railways in Parliament
46 Heritage Diary
Details of when Britain’s unique collection of heritage railways and railway museums are open.
54 Readers’ Platform
58 Subscription Offer
Subscribe today to receive your monthly copies of The Railway Magazine from only £20.
Our regular gallery of the best railway photography from around the world.
129 Reader Services
130 Crossword and Where Is It?
14 Towers of Strength
In the first of a two-part survey on steam-era coaling towers, Nick Pigott looks back at the landmark structures that once stood at more than 100 loco depots.
24 Back from the Brink
Gary Boyd-Hope explains how the West Somerset Railway’s new management team plans to tackle the line’s current problems and work towards a brighter future.
32 Access all Areas?
Open access passenger operations are a controversial topic both in the UK and Europe with strong feelings for and against, as Ben Jones discovers.
39 A Cinderella Story
From anonymous commuter train to star of the National Collection, Locomotion’s newly restored ‘2-HAP’ car tells an important part of the railway story, writes Nicola Fox.
48 Practice & Performance
Is it a bus? Is it a train? No, it’s Supertram. John Heaton reports from South Yorkshire where tram-trains now share the tracks with heavy rail trains between Tinsley and Rotherham.
On the Cover
MAIN IMAGE: The Fifty Alliance’s Nos. 50007 Hercules and 50049 Defiance were rolled out in GB Railfreight livery at Eastleigh Works on March 20. The locos will be used for stock moves and charters as required by GBRf’s new Rail Services division. CHRIS MILNER
INSET 1: Celebrating the humble SR commuter EMU.
INSET 2: Coaling Stages – the ultimate guide.
INSET 3: The Open Access story.
‘Dire’ situation at West Somerset Railway is a stark warning to heritage sector
VERY little had been said publicly about the reasons behind the extended winter closure of the West Somerset Railway (WSR), but at the beginning of March, the railway’s supporters were given a ‘warts-and-all’ explanation of the dire situation facing one of the country’s top heritage railways.
In short, the railway was on the verge of insolvency and closure. It needed to sell an asset – a locomotive – to raise money quickly if it was to survive.
A visit by inspectors from the Office of Rail and Road uncovered compliance, safety, competency and management issues, and the WSR board voluntarily decided to extend the line’s normally closed period after Christmas so as much of the required infrastructure and other works could be completed.It was the worst of all possible combinations.
The WSR has also been affected by rising wages bills as the average number of employees has increased.
According to Companies House, wage costs grew from £785,000 in 2016 to £914,000 in 2017, and last year hit £1.25million – and that’s on an average turnover of £3m.
When a line such as the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway can manage with just seven paid staff for its 14-mile length, then 50 staff for a 22-mile line is likely to ring alarm bells throughout the heritage railway movement especially in what is a volunteer-led sector.
While I don’t want to rake up the past, the historic and at times vitriolic issues between the plc and its support association haven’t helped the situation, but it also begs the question just what was discussed at board meetings?
With the railway’s finances now on the road to recovery and competency, and safety issues being re-assessed, the WSR isn’t the first to face a major financial crisis and probably wont be the last.
However, a respectful and positive rapport between any charitable support or volunteer association is an essential ingredient for the survival of any railway.
Gary Boyd-Hope’s feature (see p24) is a sobering tale and should be compulsory reading for all volunteers, staff and management at heritage railways – if only to avoid the problems that took the WSR to the brink of failure.
It was an entirely avoidable situation.
Communications by train operators remain poor
ONE of the biggest criticisms levelled at the rail industry is over it’s perceived poor communication.
It was a problem 20 years ago, yet in an age of rapid communication it still remains a major issue.
During March, I noted passengers asking two train operators via Twitter for information on delays. Messages were ignored, no reason for the delay given.
How can a passenger make an informed decision relating to their journey when met with silence?
Twitter has become the go-to place for passengers to learn about delays, but large numbers don’t subscribe to social media so resort to train-operator websites or National Rail, but here its not always easy to find delay information quickly.
After a body had been found near Chester-le-Street last month, LNER managing director David Horne sat with his social media team as they answered customer queries. That’s how it should work – and it’s great David took the time to ensure his customers were being looked after.
Train operators still have an awful lot to learn about keeping passengers informed – and happy.
Passengers want more late trains – operators take note!
NEWS that passengers in the West Midlands will get more frequent and additional late trains from the new May timetable is very welcome for workers, sports fans, concert-goers and many others.
Unfortunately, some major cities remain poorly connected for late-evening departures – for example, the last train to Leicester leaves Birmingham at 22.22, and to Derby and Nottingham at 23.09.
It’s a situation which has not changed for years, and there will be other similar examples around the country.
If there is a genuine desire to get more people using public transport and cutting pollution, let’s see more franchisees give passengers a late-night service.
HS2 still divides opinion
THERE is still immense opposition to the building of HS2, even though initial work on the project has begun.
Some of the opposition is borne out of misinformation, but there are real concerns about the cost of the project, the benefits, and whether it will extend beyond Birmingham and provide a boost to the North.
It really is a red-hot subject that splits public opinion.
RM readers clearly have views on HS2, but before putting pen to paper with your opinions, read Nick Pigott’s column on page 12.
Chris Milner, Editor
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