Take parT in revieW, OR ACCEPT WHAT’S GIVEN
“Radical change” is afoot on the ‘big railway’, and unless main line steam operators engage with the debate, they’ll end up on the sidelines.
What are the threats to main line steam? Paths? In-cab European signalling? Finding the money to put central door locking on Mk 1s?
How about the biggest shake-up of the railway since privatisation?
In October, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling accepted there is a “need for radical change.” The same month, Network Rail Chairman Sir Peter Hendy urged those at NR’s latest charters conference to take part in the review that’s intended to work out what this ‘radical change’ will be.
That work is planned for 2019, so that whatever reforms are agreed can begin in 2020. People are already suggesting this might put ‘track and train’ back together, and/or recreate the Regions of old… but whatever transpires, a different way of organising the railway is now not far off. And that’s even without any win by nationalisationfavouring Labour at a future general election.
At the moment, it’s impossible to say what any of this might mean for steam and charters… which is exactly the point.
One of those listening to Hendy’s message in York was the A1 Trust’s Graeme Bunker, a man who has himself sat at the top of a TOC, among a raft of roles within the railway over the years. The choice now, he argues, is between taking part in the review – or sitting back and accepting whatever deal is served up.
TIMe TO sPeAK uP
Unsurprisingly, Graeme makes the argument that it’s “very important” for the review to consider charters, and says “it’s right that all the operators, and the promoters, give their views. If 20 organisations write in, suddenly people will realise how important this is.”
Special trains, he says, are “a major sector, employing a lot of people and bringing economic benefit.
“How do we protect that and continue to have the chance to develop new opportunities, while not standing in the way of improvements?
“We run the risk of being silent and finding that a new structure makes it much more difficult to make charters work; so if you end up with regional devolution with some vertical integration [track and trains being run together], how will that work for charters that run across regions? With the potential of a new ‘controlling mind’ it’s very important that charters are factored into their remit, perhaps in the way they are in Scotland.”
There he’s referring to the support given to specials by Transport Scotland (which effectively has the Department for Transport’s role north of the border) that, among other things, led to the programme of steam that followed the opening of the Borders Railway, back in 2015.
“If the review thinks about where charters fit, we’re much less likely to be tagged on at the back,” says Graeme.
“We’re already fairly near the back, but at least it works – but if the charter community is silent then there will be no hearing, and we would have to take what we are given.” ●● Read about the rail review here: www.gov.uk/government/groups/rail-review
Southerner on the ‘S&C’: Carnforthbased ‘Merchant Navy’ No. 35018 British India Line rattles past Stockber, near Crosby Garrett, with the ‘Pendle Dalesman’ on October 17.