En­shrined… or con­fined?

Steam Railway (UK) - - Comment - Nick Brodrick, Ed­i­tor

If we don’t do it now, in the years be­tween now and 2025, ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be so full that such an op­por­tu­nity won’t be there.” Those are the words of Sir Peter Hendy, chair­man of Net­work Rail, when he spoke to Steam Rail­way around this time last year. The ‘ev­ery­thing’ he refers to is the modern rail­way, which is ac­cel­er­at­ing – lit­er­ally – and whose trains are in­creas­ingly stran­gling the free­dom of steam-hauled charter trains. And by ‘do it’, he’s re­fer­ring to se­cur­ing ded­i­cated paths for steam. Those words weren’t hol­low be­cause NR, as you can read in Down Main (page 74), is now fol­low­ing through with a firm com­mit­ment in its next five-year plan­ning cy­cle. It says that char­ters “bring a pos­i­tive ben­e­fit to both the rail in­dus­try and UK plc”. Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the pro­found nature of those words. We are clearly in a very dif­fer­ent world to that of 1971/2, when King Ge­orge V and Clun Cas­tle broke BR’s steam ban. Like­wise, pri­vati­sa­tion in the 1990s and the free­dom that Open Ac­cess brought with it meant that our geri­atric ma­chines could ef­fec­tively touch any rail­head on the na­tional net­work. But that was in an era when ca­pac­ity for 60 and 75mph limited mo­tive power was ev­ery­where. The un­re­lent­ing march of higher speed in­ter-city trains (e.g. IEP units on the Great Western and East Coast Main Lines) – and more of them – mean that where it was once easy to find ‘white space’ in the na­tional timetable, it is now evap­o­rat­ing in front of our eyes. So NR’s pre­emp­tive com­mit­ment to char­ters is some­thing po­ten­tially very en­cour­ag­ing. Po­ten­tially, be­cause we don’t yet know what form th­ese en­shrined routes will take. If it means that you can still get Fly­ing Scots­man into and out of King’s Cross, a ‘Duchess’ to Glas­gow Cen­tral, a ‘Cas­tle’ through Box Tun­nel and a ‘Mer­chant Navy’ over Honi­ton bank at sen­si­ble times (even if it’s on Satur­days only) af­ter the im­pend­ing na­tional timetable up­heaval, then that might

be more than we have dared wish for in re­cent times. But if it ul­ti­mately leads to steam be­ing co­cooned on a hand­ful of al­ready well­trod­den paths, like the S&C and the Fort Wil­liam-Mal­laig line (af­ter all, the doc­u­ment ex­plores the op­tion for lim­it­ing ‘go any­where’ rights to bid), then we might end up in a more re­stricted place than we have been since BR’s ‘ap­proved routes’ of the 1970s. In other words, so long as this ex­er­cise doesn’t be­come jus­ti­fi­ca­tion to purge steam from wide swathes of the net­work for fu­ture mas­ters of the rail­way, then we will be in a much hap­pier place. And isn’t it good that we’re in a po­si­tion to have this de­bate now, rather than af­ter the event, when it might be too late? Re­mem­ber, NR doesn’t have to do this, be­cause Open Ac­cess and avail­able paths are two very dif­fer­ent things. And for that, NR should be given credit. With the for­mal launch of a third steam train op­er­at­ing com­pany in April and an­other in the pipe­line, we could be on the cusp of a third post-1968 rail­tour age.


To ac­com­mo­date Oliver Cromwell’s Great Eastern Main Line farewell on Fe­bru­ary 22, or­di­nary train op­er­a­tors mag­nan­i­mously al­tered the sched­ules of some ser­vices to and from Liver­pool Street. No. 70013 marches up Beth­nal Green Bank, en route to Nor­wich...

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