Steam Railway (UK) - - MAILBAG -

I was sad­dened by the death of for­mer Great Cen­tral Rail­way MD Bill Ford (SR485), de­scribed by those he worked with as its ‘finest ever leader’.

As a long-term fi­nan­cial sup­porter of the GCR, and a fairly reg­u­lar vis­i­tor, I, along with many oth­ers, ob­served the changes un­der his ten­ure, un­til the board un­cer­e­mo­ni­ously ‘dumped’ him in his ab­sence while he was se­ri­ously ill in hospi­tal, in 2016. The changes made dur­ing his time in of­fice were quite as­ton­ish­ing, and turned the rail­way into the suc­cess that it is to­day.

He al­ways said that this suc­cess was achieved by put­ting the ‘right team to­gether’ and that it was the ‘team’ that brought the suc­cess.

Al­ways po­lite and wel­com­ing, and de­spite his enor­mous work­load, Bill was never hap­pier than when he was talk­ing to vis­i­tors, sup­port­ers, vol­un­teers and staff alike about what could be achieved, par­tic­u­larly his ul­ti­mate aim (and that of the mul­ti­tude of GCR sup­port­ers) of com­plet­ing the route over the Mid­land Main Line to Rud­ding­ton and achiev­ing that main line con­nec­tion.

Sadly, the present GCR board seem not to be so en­thu­si­as­tic.

It sur­mises that the ‘Gap’ is a long-term project and it is an open se­cret that some within the board have no in­ter­est in push­ing for­ward in the way Bill Ford had hoped. With over hun­dreds of thou­sands of pounds of donors’ money al­ready in­vested in con­struct­ing and com­plet­ing the MML bridge, why is the fund-rais­ing for the next step in the project (re­pairs to the Grand Union Canal bridge) be­ing done by its vol­un­teer or­gan­i­sa­tion, Friends of the Great Cen­tral Main Line?

Surely the plc should be spear­head­ing this?

You only have to look at the suc­cess of the Glouces­ter­shire War­wick­shire Steam Rail­way ex­ten­sion to Broad­way, in­clud­ing a new sta­tion, to see what can be achieved when every­body is pulling in the same di­rec­tion.

The plc may say that it is right to con­cen­trate on other ex­pen­sive in­fra­struc­ture projects on the rail­way, but these were al­ready in the pipe­line dur­ing Bill Ford’s ten­ure. He was able to en­sure that while these projects, which also in­cluded the now de­funct lot­tery sup­port for a mu­seum at Le­ices­ter North, were im­por­tant, and in some cases des­per­ately needed, they would not be a dis­trac­tion to the main goal of com­plet­ing the ‘Gap’. His abil­ity to net­work and to get non-en­thu­si­asts to help the GCR, both fi­nan­cially and oth­er­wise, was quite spec­tac­u­lar and the re­sults are there to be seen.

The plc may also say that work is al­ready pro­gress­ing to­wards the ex­ten­sion be­cause a new lo­co­mo­tive shed is to be built to ac­com­mo­date the run­ning line, start­ing by the end of 2019.

GCR Manag­ing Di­rec­tor Michael Gough states else­where in your mag­a­zine that the de­vel­op­ment of this new shed means the track go­ing north would be on the eastern side of the pro­posed new shed (i.e. the orig­i­nal for­ma­tion). This means the track will have to be much closer to the ex­ist­ing res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties – some­thing that both the oc­cu­pants of those prop­er­ties and plan­ners may find un­ac­cept­able.

Fur­ther, and with a cou­ple of ex­cep­tions, di­rec­tors are con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence and rarely seen by ei­ther the staff or vol­un­teers. This is­sue was raised by a num­ber of share­hold­ers at the GCR plc an­nual meet­ing last June, show­ing that this has not gone un­no­ticed by the large num­bers of sup­port­ers who have put vast sums of their hard-earned cash into the GCR over many years.

It is not a ‘cor­po­rate’ or­gan­i­sa­tion, which is how some seem to view it. A spe­cial kind of man­age­ment skill is re­quired to amal­ga­mate the enor­mous as­sets of both vol­un­teers and paid staff and, most im­por­tantly, to keep them both happy.

The rail­way can­not op­er­ate without vol­un­teers and keep­ing them on side is vi­tal for the rail­way to con­tinue. Oth­er­wise, the de­cline in morale, which has al­ready taken root in the camps of both staff and vol­un­teers, will con­tinue to fester to the detri­ment of our rail­way.

So, who will put the ‘great’ back into the Great Cen­tral Rail­way? Name and ad­dress sup­plied


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