Can we take many more rules?
Summer’s here, so everyone should be happy - though it’s more likely people will be smiling out of relief as steam continues to hold onto its place on the main line, in spite of claims made by pessimists who reckon it is now on borrowed time. To have any future, steam has to fit comfortably with high-tech trains on an increasingly congested, highly regulated network, where train speeds of 110mph and 125mph are commonplace. We are yet to feel the impact of London’s new Thameslink and Crosslink services, which will start in a couple of years. The effects of a massive ramping up of service frequencies will cause ripples as far away as Wales and Scotland as train paths become more precious, and a single failure cannot be contemplated. No wonder West Coast Railways stated earlier this year that it intends to steer well clear of the West and East Coast Main Lines. How much capacity will there soon be over the twin-track Digswell Viaduct when Virgin East Coast, Thameslink and Grand Central fill up almost every available path? Interlocking with a plodding steam service is already a problem. So far, steam has managed to slide successfully under the ever-lowering bar of legislation. Owners and operators have absorbed the cost of inspections and certification and fitting a myriad of in-cab safety signalling equipment, but there are limits to how much more they can take. The latest ‘initiative’ is another attack on the trusty (and sometimes slightly rusty) beloved BR Mk 1 coach, still the mainstay of excursion rakes some two decades after the electric multiple unit versions were replaced on commuter services around the South East amid concerns that they were unsafe in collisions. This time, the concern is the installation of retention tank toilets, and perhaps not before time. Spare a thought for lineside track workers, because very time a flush is made, they have to duck for cover to avoid being plastered with a fine spray of unmentionable matter. Preserved lines are exempt from this cripplingly expensive modification, but spare a thought for the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which admits in this issue’s Down Main column that it will be hard-pressed to upgrade its vehicles for the short haul over Network Rail metals into Whitby. The North Norfolk Railway charms its visitors, but they often remark that the saunter from Sheringham to Holt is just a little too short. Happily, all that will change on August 10 when steam-hauled services are allowed into the genteel pier and crab resort of Cromer, the last piece of M&GN railway still in national ownership. Ten miles - now that’s much better.
Somerset & Dorset ‘7F’ No. 53808 storms through Swithland, on the Great Central Railway, with a Timeline charter demonstration freight on May 26.