SAPHOS TAKES OVER ‘FELLSMAN’ IN HOSKING SHAKE-UP
statesman to focus on diesel-hauled trips as saphos takes on a depleted ‘Fellsman’ itinerary.
We’d love to take on a part of St philip’S MarSh – but i don’t think it’S on the table
Tony Bush, MAnAGInG DIRECToR, LsL
If you have Statesman in mind as a steam promoter, it’s time for a rethink. Instead, 2019’s Settle-Carlisle ‘Fellsman’ trips are moving to join the Saphos Trains offering as part of a shake-up of the Hosking family of businesses. Statesman continues to exist though, with its diesel itineraries that were always the broad chunk of its programme.
The move coincides with Statesman’s operation being brought in-house to Crewe’s own operator Locomotive Services Ltd; more visibly, there’s also a reduction in ‘Fellsmans’ – from seven last year to just a trio of trips in the coming season.
However, while the reason for that lower number is that the trains are “being consolidated into the Saphos programme”, LSL Managing Director Tony Bush says it won’t stay that way forever. “The number of ‘Fellsmans’ will increase in future years – not massively, but it will,” he says. “However, there’s no move for us to run more than one trip on any day.”
It was in 2016 (SR461) that Statesman became part of the Hosking group of companies, but despite the launch of LSL in April 2018, the promoter has until now remained with its previous external operator, West Coast Railways.
Including the ‘Fellsmans’, the Saphos list for the coming year stands at 18 trains, the same number as in 2018’s debut season. That figure forms the “core programme”, Tony says, “though there’ll be some private charters.”
Although the new Saphos offering is recognisably an evolution from that of 2018, there is expansion in terms of itineraries, if not of train numbers. So, there’s a ‘Golden Arrow’ Kent circular from Victoria with
a break in Canterbury on October 26; Cumbrian Coast/Shap ‘Lakelanders’ from Crewe (May 18 and August 14); and a CreweYork ‘Yorkshireman’ on September 14.
Bristol gains a pair of ‘Dorset Coast Express’ trains, which means a total of five trips from Temple Meads in three weeks: the Weymouth trains on June 26 and July 3 add to three ‘English Riviera Expresses’ to Kingswear (via Bath on June 16 and July 7, and Yatton on June 30).
On the topic of Bristol, there have been suggestions that with Great Western’s use of High Speed Trains coming to an end, LSL might take up part of St Philip’s Marsh depot. A sprawling site located on the lines that avoid Temple Meads by running between North Somerset and Bristol West junctions, this has more than a century of railway history (albeit the steam side is closed and gone). That would potentially be more convenient than trying to squash into Barton Hill, which steam has generally done in recent years; Bath Road has now been gone for more than two decades. Plus, after all, the Hosking ‘family’ is planning to acquire its own HST (SR483). However, while not dismissive of the idea, LSL’s MD is a little more cautious: “We’d love to take on a part of St Philip’s Marsh – but I don’t think it’s on the table,” he says.
“GWR has always been very supportive of us and charter operators in general, so I think there’s a high probability we’ll be able to work with Great Western, but as more of a customer.”
●● Gricers were pretty excited last year about Saphos Trains’ introductory fares. Well, those have disappeared for 2019… but low prices have not.
That’s because Saphos is replacing its introductory fares with ‘early booking discounts’; buy tickets up to 30 days before a train is to run and you’ll qualify for the reduced rate. So, you can tie down a Standard Class ticket for £65 rather than £95 – and there’s money off First and Dining tickets too.
Clearly, some potential passengers will be cheered by that – but what about other promoters?
One who was particularly forthright about the possible effects of Saphos’ introductory prices was the late Nigel Dobbing of the Railway Touring Company. In SR476, he said that his organisation “couldn’t afford to offer tickets at that price” – and indeed that if “they’re going to offer those prices we won’t be able to carry on.”
So, what does RTC think now? MD Kelly Osborne says the prices “are unrealistic in terms of competing” – but also that “we have a wide range of tours for 2019 that will continue to appeal to our loyal customers”.
Also, although unstated in her response, it’s worth noting that at 70-odd trips a year, RTC’s programme is nearly four times bigger than that of the newer promoter.