Can we take many more rules?

Steam Railway (UK) - - Comment - Howard John­ston, Edi­tor

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.

MATTHEW TOMS

Som­er­set & Dorset ‘7F’ No. 53808 storms through Swith­land, on the Great Cen­tral Rail­way, with a Timeline char­ter demon­stra­tion freight on May 26.

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