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.

Steam Railway (UK) - - DOWNMAIN -

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.


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.

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