West Coast in wa­ter tower row and Saphos sam­ples suc­cess

For­mal plan gives clar­ity and def­i­ni­tion to guar­an­teed paths on the na­tional net­work.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

Iwouldn’t sug­gest you spend your life delv­ing through Net­work Rail strat­egy pa­pers – but the snap­pily ti­tled ‘Freight and Na­tional Pas­sen­ger Op­er­a­tors Route Strate­gic Plan’ should re­ally be of in­ter­est. No? OK, well let me ex­plain: this doc­u­ment brings into fo­cus much of what the charter world has been dis­cussing with NR in re­cent months. A key head­line is that the cus­to­dian of our rail­way in­fra­struc­ture will be “tri­alling strate­gic charter paths” in the timetable that’s due to come into ef­fect this De­cem­ber. Po­ten­tially, this is good news: Steam Rail­way has said for years that cre­at­ing such paths is es­sen­tial if char­ters are not to be squeezed off main lines by new trains and ca­pac­ity-eat­ing projects such as Thames­link or Cross­rail that are now com­ing to fruition; in­stead of what’s likely to be an in­creas­ingly fu­tile gam­ble on be­ing able to fit a charter into a ‘gap’ in a timetable, there would be a guar­an­teed place. NR Chair­man Sir Peter Hendy aired the idea of such paths in his in­ter­view with this mag­a­zine last year (SR467); and it was dis­cussed at a char­ters ‘sum­mit’ be­fore that – but now there’s a for­mal, pub­lished plan. Af­ter the trial, the pro­posal is to gen­er­ate a wider list of such paths. That’s among a num­ber of things NR says it will be up to on char­ters in the next five-year plan­ning timescale. Known as ‘Con­trol Pe­riod 6’, it runs from April 2019. The list is to be ready by De­cem­ber 2020. “The out­put,” NR says in its pa­per, “will be a cat­a­logue of ro­bustly per­form­ing paths, which are fully gauge-cleared, and have fur­ther op­er­a­tional char­ac­ter­is­tics such as wa­ter­ing lo­ca­tions and vege­ta­tion clear­ance.” It’s en­vis­aged that as well as cre­at­ing more cer­tainty for op­er­a­tors and pro­mot­ers, such an ap­proach will re­duce NR’s own effort, com­pared with the ad hoc ap­proach of con­tin­ual one-off tim­ing and gaug­ing plan­ning that’s cur­rently the norm. So, good stuff? Yes… but with cau­tion. Not only be­cause the de­tail needs to be worked up, but be­cause while de­vel­op­ing op­tions “for the con­trac­tual pro­tec­tion of charter paths” is a fur­ther part of NR’s ‘CP6’ plan, so too is the same thing on “the lim­i­ta­tion of ‘go any­where’ rights to bid.” That ‘right to roam’ cur­rently means NR is re­quired to main­tain the pub­lished gaug­ing and pre­vent en­croach­ing vege­ta­tion on the sys­tem, across the en­tire net­work; some­thing the or­gan­i­sa­tion it­self ac­cepts is chal­leng­ing. Yet ‘go any­where’ is the ba­sis on which char­ters have now been run for 20-odd years – the cher­ished idea that rather than fol­low­ing BR’s ‘ap­proved routes’, you can run where you like. The in­ten­tion is to agree the op­tions on this by March 2022. Much else is slated for de­vel­op­ment in ‘CP6’ too, such as car­riage toi­let tanks (some­thing NR puts a £10m fig­ure on) and agree­ing a way for­ward for fit­ting Euro­pean Train Con­trol Sys­tem elec­tronic sig­nalling. So, there’s plenty for peo­ple to dis­cuss… We’ll un­doubt­edly come back to all this. For now though, I’ll leave you with a nice pos­i­tive quote from NR: “Charter Train Op­er­a­tions bring a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit to both the rail in­dus­try and to UK plc.” Well said – and worth re­peat­ing of­ten.

LES NIXON

Lined black LMS 4-6-0 duo No. 45690 Le­an­der and No. 45407 (run­ning as No. 45157 The Glas­gow High­lander ) exit Dove Holes tun­nel be­tween Peak For­est and Chape­len-le-Frith with the ‘High Peak Ex­plorer’ on March 17. The train was orig­i­nally ad­ver­tised to...

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