Ty­se­ley chair­man Michael White­house on Vin­tage Trains’ am­bi­tion to be­come Britain’s next train op­er­at­ing com­pany

MICHAEL WHITE­HOUSE, chair­man of Vin­tage Trains, ex­plains the vi­sion be­hind set­ting up a Train Op­er­at­ing Com­pany.

Steam Railway (UK) - - Contents -

Fifty years ago, Bri­tish Rail ran its last steam train. Since then the main line steam move­ment has achieved far more than any­one ever thought pos­si­ble. But have we achieved enough? The main line move­ment is at a tip­ping point: peo­ple with the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence to drive and fix our beloved steam lo­co­mo­tives are rare. Costs are in­creas­ing greatly as equip­ment be­comes life-ex­pired and now needs re­newal, not re­pair. Few fa­cil­i­ties and few peo­ple can de­liver what is needed. Ev­er­chang­ing reg­u­la­tions will in­crease this ten­sion; the re­quire­ment for main­te­nance to be un­der­taken by a recog­nised En­tity in Charge of Main­te­nance (an Of­fice of Rail and Road re­quire­ment) will see to that. So what to do? Keep on run­ning char­ters un­til our last breath, re­tire and say ‘well, it was fun’? That is not for us. At Vin­tage Trains we have de­ter­mined to se­cure ex­press steam trains on the main line for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. It is not an easy path to tread but, with your help and con­tri­bu­tion to our char­i­ta­ble and co-op­er­a­tive­owned Train Op­er­at­ing Com­pany, we can do this. As we al­ready have five of the six el­e­ments needed to run ex­press steam trains, we just need the fi­nal and miss­ing piece: an op­er­at­ing li­cence to se­cure the fu­ture. We are of­fer­ing you a unique op­por­tu­nity to share in the magic of own­ing a main line rail­way com­pany op­er­at­ing ex­press steam trains. We must en­sure that we re­main able to pro­mote and run ex­press steam trains well into the fu­ture as the modern rail­way con­tin­ues to get busier and run faster trains. We must en­sure we have all the skills and equip­ment we need to de­liver this vi­sion. In short, we have to de­velop our own rail­way com­pany so we can be self-re­liant, re­li­able and re­spon­sive to mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties. There is a sig­nif­i­cant tourist op­por­tu­nity for our ex­press steam trains from vis­i­tors to the Mid­lands and, with the ar­rival of HS2 at the orig­i­nal 1832 Cur­zon Street sta­tion in the next decade, the op­por­tu­nity will in­crease ten­fold as we will sim­ply be eas­ier to reach, both for na­tional and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. With a li­cence we can en­gage with timetable plan­ners and tour agents, both of whom wish to make plans be­yond 2021. Why is that date sig­nif­i­cant? West Mid­lands Rail­way will in­tro­duce a seven-day weekly timetable then, and we are work­ing with them to se­cure daily paths for the ‘Shake­speare Ex­press’ and two new op­er­a­tions: a din­ing train from Birm­ing­ham through to Bridg­north on the Sev­ern Val­ley Rail­way and lo­cal ex­cur­sions for the fam­ily mar­ket. Net­work Rail is agree­able to mak­ing ‘Q’ (re­served) paths reg­u­larly avail­able for ex­press steam trains to var­i­ous des­ti­na­tions, in­clud­ing Ox­ford, Chester, Here­ford and York so our ‘Cas­tles’ can run Pull­man ex­presses coun­try­wide for day trips, climb­ing hills and run­ning up to 75mph, while we also offer The Great Bri­tish Break­fast, Sun­day lunch and Cham­pagne din­ners. This will make us a na­tion­ally sig­nif­i­cant busi­ness.

A REAL RAIL­WAY FIRM

All of us want cer­tainty and con­ti­nu­ity and this is how we will de­liver it. And that is not all. We will be a real rail­way com­pany, in­te­grated with the fran­chise op­er­a­tors, in­clud­ing tick­et­ing schemes. That is par­tic­u­larly what the Depart­ment for Trans­port wants. Ex­press steam trains will be rou­tine, reg­u­lar and al­most com­mon­place; just like they used to be over 50 years ago. That is our vi­sion. It would have been be­yond our wildest dreams in 1968, but with your help it is achiev­able now, pro­vided we fol­low the pre­scribed steps. The cri­te­ria for a TOC are: a team of fit and proper peo­ple, a safe method of work­ing, in­surance cover and a good fi­nan­cial plan, all ap­proved by the ORR. All th­ese el­e­ments now ex­ist and are ac­tively be­ing con­sid­ered by the ORR. Wait­ing in the wings we have our track ac­cess agree­ment, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, steam and diesel lo­co­mo­tives, car­riages, work­shop, op­er­at­ing de­pot and qual­i­fied staff, all just wait­ing for ‘li­cence day.’ We will op­er­ate trains safely and pro­vide our cus­tomers with out­stand­ing ser­vice. And that is not all! We must in­volve the next gen­er­a­tion and we must be of ben­e­fit to the com­mu­nity. While steam trains in­ter­est us all a great deal, it is not a given for younger gen­er­a­tions who never ex­pe­ri­enced them ‘for real’ 50 years ago. With the right struc­ture,

RAIL­WAY PRESER­VA­TION IS AS MUCH ABOUT THE PRESENT AS IT IS THE PAST

mo­ti­va­tion, en­cour­age­ment and in­volve­ment we can achieve this. Rail­way preser­va­tion is as much about the present as it is the past. An ef­fec­tive preser­va­tion strat­egy must use its rich and di­verse his­tory and cul­ture as an in­spi­ra­tion and cat­a­lyst for its fu­ture de­vel­op­ment.

COM­MU­NITY BEN­E­FIT

We plan to do just that with our Com­mu­nity Ben­e­fit Society. Birm­ing­ham is a great city for in­no­va­tion. We have sig­nif­i­cant sto­ries to tell about its peo­ple’s con­tri­bu­tions to the steam age, in­clud­ing the in­ven­tion and mar­ket­ing of im­prove­ments to the steam en­gine which made mass man­u­fac­ture re­li­able for the first time in his­tory. The city still has the old­est work­able steam en­gine in the world: the Boul­ton & Watt pump­ing en­gine in Think­tank, right next to Cur­zon Street sta­tion where, in the 19th cen­tury, steam trains ran to and from Lon­don at the breath­tak­ing speed of 60mph, en­abling the city to be­come the hub of one of the world’s first in­ter-city rail­way net­works. This will soon be repli­cated at much faster speeds by HS2, and our ‘Shake­speare Ex­press’ will con­nect with it at Moor Street, so en­abling our op­er­a­tions to grow. Our plan will give our ex­press steam trains a sec­ond life, do­ing what they do best: run­ning fast coun­try­wide. We will also grow our en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness to re­tain, teach and de­velop the en­gi­neer­ing skills of the steam age so our ap­pren­tices can ex­pe­ri­ence the fruits of their labour as our steam lo­co­mo­tives run at full cry on the main line in reg­u­lar ser­vice. We will per­pet­u­ate Birm­ing­ham’s in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned car­riage-build­ing skills through our de­vel­op­ment of Metropoli­tan Rail­way Car­riage & Wagon Co. Ltd to en­sure our last-gen­er­a­tion Pull­man cars and other car­riages re­main fit for pur­pose, just like the thou­sands of rail­way car­riages Birm­ing­ham ex­ported to all cor­ners of the world. By us­ing steam lo­co­mo­tive power and car­riages built in Birm­ing­ham to de­velop our tourist and en­gi­neer­ing op­er­a­tions, we will make our ex­press steam trains rel­e­vant to the next gen­er­a­tion. We will use our col­lec­tion to in­volve young peo­ple in team work and teach them busi­ness and en­gi­neer­ing skills. We will tell them the sto­ries about our in­dus­trial past, so peo­ple un­der­stand what it has achieved. Through work­ing with us in a lively, use­ful and dif­fer­ent busi­ness, we will in­spire mem­bers of the next gen­er­a­tion to in­no­vate for them­selves and try to make the world a bet­ter place. Our TOC is crit­i­cal to the de­liv­ery of this vi­sion. It will en­able us to run our own ex­press steam trains in reg­u­lar ser­vice as a tourist busi­ness and con­tinue to de­liver and de­velop en­gi­neer­ing skills to the na­tion’s pre­served rail­ways. If you think this is a good plan, please join us. We can’t go ahead un­til we raise £800,000. We have now reached in ex­cess of £700,000 – an amaz­ing achieve­ment. If any of this story en­cour­ages you to seek to join us and help us de­liver this vi­sion, so much the bet­ter. You will be most wel­come.

ROBIN COOMBES

Clun Cas­tle – a cor­ner­stone of Vin­tage Trains’ planned TOC.

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