BARGAIN SAPHOS FARES MEAN MOST TRAINS ARE FILLING UP
There are still a few seats left on Saphos Trains’ introductory trips – but you’ll need to act fast.
If Saphos Trains’ decision to launch with £45 introductory fares was about ensuring ‘bums on seats’, it seems to have paid off. In fact, if you haven’t already booked, your options are now limited. There’s space on each of the three ‘Welsh Borders Explorer’ trips, and four bums can still be snuck onto the pre-Christmas ‘Pennine Moors Explorer’ – a train still around nine months away. That’s it. All the North Wales, Welsh Marches, English Riviera and Stratford-upon-Avon specials – eight trips in total – are fully booked. Such was the news from ST’s Peter Watkinson in mid-March. Despite this though, he said there are “no plans” for any further trains in 2018. Instead, it’s likely that Saphos will wait until around the middle of the season, and then start working on the 2019 programme; Peter pointed out that when we spoke, his organisation had yet to make its debut – and next year “has not been looked at yet”. Lest we forget how close it now is, Saphos’ first public train will be upon us within the lifetime of this issue of Steam Railway: the moment comes on April 14 with a Crewe-Holyhead and return ‘North Wales Coast Express’ that is expected to employ Royal Scot. Does the way ST’s first season has filled up come as a surprise? Perhaps not. After all, this year’s introductory headline price for a Standard ticket is a saving of £50 on the £95 ‘normal’ cost – and there are substantial savings on First Class and dining too. However, while ST’s decision to go for those lower fares has meant reduced revenue per train, the equation has not simply been all one way – because the seats have filled without the need for any major marketing. Peter says this can cost £4,000 per train. “These have sold without spending a penny on paid-for advertising,” he says – and that means the savings can be passed on to passengers. So, what are your options if you still want to partake of ST’s first season? Well, if those last spaces on December 8’s ‘Pennine Moors Christmas Explorer’ have gone by the time you read this, what’s likely to be left is a trio of ‘Welsh Borders Explorers’. These are ‘circulars’ starting at Crewe and running via Chester, Wrexham, Shrewsbury and Stafford, with a spin along the West Coast Main Line to finish. As of March 16, April 29’s train was 70% full (with the figure for the June 10 trip at 58% and that for December 2’s ‘Welsh Borders Christmas Explorer’ 38%). Those introductory prices mean that (assuming the seats you want are available, as not all are on all trains) Standard is £45, with First Class at £70 and Premier Dining at £170. ●● One perhaps unexpected move by Saphos is that the sold-out ‘English Riviera Express’ trips on June 24 and July 1 are now to be steam-hauled throughout from Bristol to Kingswear and back. That’s a shift from the previous plan of using diesel between Temple Meads and Taunton, with steam only from Taunton to Kingswear and return, and the engines being based at the West Somerset Railway (SR475). That option would have given a preservedline refuge, rather than having to rely on a modern depot. However, despite that, with the engines now expected to use Bristol’s St Philip’s Marsh, Peter Watkinson argues that the new arrangement is actually operationally easier “so you might as well run it throughout”. As well as being a shift in operational terms, adding Bristol-Taunton makes a big difference to the steam mileage: that now jumps from 131 to 221 miles (rounded figures) – the same as the ‘Torbay Express’ when that runs on its shorter route via Weston-super-Mare rather than Westbury (SR475).
THESE HAVE SOLD WITHOUT SPENDING A PENNY ON PAID-FOR ADVERTISING PETER WATKINSON, SAPHOS TRAINS
No. 46100 Royal Scot pauses in a middle road at Crewe during its training runs for the new Locomotive Services TOC, while Ian Riley-maintained ‘Black Five’ No. 45212 replenishes its tender during its engine and van move between Carnforth and Southall.