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