WEST COAST ACCUSED OF ‘BULLYING’ IN S&C WATER TOWER ROW
Carnforth TOC asks MSLO members to quit association, describing it as a “hindrance to locomotive owners”.
West Coast Railways could be stopped from using the water crane at Appleby on the Settle-Carlisle. The prospect of being denied access to a facility traditionally used by southbound trains on the ‘Long Drag’ comes amid a dispute between the crane’s custodian, the Main Line Steam Locomotive Operators Association, and the Carnforthbased operator. In February, West Coast announced that it will no longer run engines owned by MSLO members unless they confirmed plans to leave the organisation. In what has become an increasingly public row, the train operator has said it considers the former Steam Locomotive Operators Association to be “more of a hindrance than an asset to locomotive owners” – while MSLO has accused WCR of a “bullying demand.” The trigger for the dispute is £1,700 that MSLO says WCR owes for the use last year of Appleby’s water crane and tower, which MSLO manages. That was when the association introduced a £150 fee for each visit, subsequently reduced to £100 after a review of what MSLO described as “actual costs and use in 2017”. It had previously provided the service for free. All promoters other than WCR had paid, it later told members. In a letter to MSLO Chairman David McIntosh on January 16, subsequently widely circulated, and which Steam Railway has seen, WCR’s James Shuttleworth said that in a previous telephone call his company had “rejected your invoices, both for the initial and revised amounts”. However, he said that “as previously, WCR was quite prepared to pay for the actual water supplied and, to that end, I merely requested that we have sight of your water bills, specifically those appertaining to the occasions when we took water at Appleby”. In its letter, WCR also reiterated something it said was an offer it had made before and repeated – “to take over the whole Appleby water supply from MSLO”. This, it said, “should be seen as beneficial to MSLO for a number of reasons: it would relieve you of the maintenance responsibility and cost burden of administering the charge for water, as the majority of users are working through WCR anyway.” The subsequent announcement by WCR that it would no longer recognise MSLO came in a note sent to locomotive owners on February 21, which has also been seen by Steam Railway. In it, the train operator explained that were it to take over the job of water supply it would make both Appleby and its own supply at Hellifield available to other operators “provided a suitable arrangement is in place”. However, James Shuttleworth added: “Unfortunately, MSLO management and, in particular, the current chairman, David McIntosh, have persistently refused to take up this offer, for reasons which remain unclear to WCR.” “WCR now believes that it has reached the end of the road with its relationship with MSLO; it considers that the organisation has no meaningful role within current main line operations, that it is more of a hindrance than an asset to locomotive owners through its ever more detached
management committee, and therefore it will no longer recognise the organisation or its membership. As a direct consequence, WCR will no longer operate locomotives belonging to remaining members of MSLO, unless they confirm to WCR, by return, that they intend to terminate their memberships.”
In mid-March MSLO was still considering its next step, although it described the above – together with the proposal to hand over the Appleby lease – as an “outrageous and bullying demand”. In an email to members on March 6 it asked for feedback on three different options – whether it should hand over the lease; whether it should pursue WCR through the small claims court for the £1,700 it says it is owed; and whether it should block Carnforth access to Appleby’s water tower from May 1. According to David McIntosh, it was still waiting for members’ responses as of March 15. As longer term readers may recall, MSLO is the successor to the Steam Locomotive Operators Association, which in BR days was the key go-between for BR on the one side and engine owners on the other. The SLOA was also, of itself, a major promoter of railtours. These days, membership is no longer essential, but the organisation survives as a form of umbrella body – as well as running the watering facilities at Appleby. Those represent a remarkable exception to the norm on today’s railway, in which watering normally means bringing in a road tanker at an estimated £350-plus a time. On March 15, David McIntosh told Down Main that his group currently had 19 members – and as yet had “been advised of no resignations” as a result of WCR’s move not to recognise it. However, he said the Great Western Society had “decided not to renew because of a review of their main line aspirations.” The decision to do that, the Great Western Society’s Richard Preston later confirmed to me, had been taken before WCR’s announcement. “Several former members,” David McIntosh continued, “have approached us seeking to renew their memberships.” West Coast’s James Shuttleworth meanwhile, when asked whether he wanted to comment further, responded on March 16: “I have nothing to add to my memos and letter, other than that our frustration is borne out of many years of trying to save everyone, including MSLO and its members, both money and hassle.” So, where next? It seems that may depend on the responses of MSLO’s members. One thing that looks unlikely, however, is a direct transfer of the lease to WCR – which MSLO also considers to have been overtaken by events. Network Rail – which remains the owner of Appleby’s water tower – told Down Main on March 13 that “Appleby water column is managed by MSLO [which makes] services available to all operators, MSLO has to pay the water bill for its use and therefore levy a small charge to all users of it.” “As part of a lease agreement MSLO would not be able to transfer it to another party, the lease would need to be returned to NR first.” Carnforth-based ‘Jubilee’ No. 45699 Galatea crosses the S&C’s Arten Gill Viaduct on February 24 2018 with the southbound ‘Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express’. MATT FIELDING