West Coast in water tower row and Saphos samples success
Formal plan gives clarity and definition to guaranteed paths on the national network.
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.
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...