There are still a few seats left on Saphos Trains’ in­tro­duc­tory trips – but you’ll need to act fast.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Down Main -

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).



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.

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