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West Somerset Railway's future in doubt after £800k loss


KeithMacdonald
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WSR asking for £1m to standstill till next season:

https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/news/detail/wsr-launches-new-1-million-emergency-sos-survival-fund

 

Turned down for further Government grant assistance as they are viewed as a commercial business rather than not for profit.

 

The optics don't look good when railways like the SVR have already been running galas to get people back and the NYMR is also running services.

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Meanwhile over in Yorkshire, it's like old times.

 

You can scroll back through - Black 5 empty stock to Whitby being strengthened by 2 coaches with the 08 doing to honours, then a bit later - train from Pickering arrives - topped and tailed standard tank at front, 25 at rear - they both come off, replaced by another loco (that I've missed somewhere) and it heads off to Whitby just as the Black 5 returns ex Whitby.

 

 

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I am not privy to the nature of the management strife at the WSR, although evidently factionism is part of it, but am aware that the NYMR is or has been headed by a former senior BR manager, who had been Area Manager at Kings Cross. Perhaps experience of what makes things tick on a railway, and of motivating and getting the best out of a workforce, in these cases largely composed of volunteers, has added a little extra something. 

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On 05/06/2021 at 00:09, Railpassion said:

 

Something I find strange in the newsletter, regarding Seaward Way LC, is the statement that as the LC will now have full barriers, 'there is a need for CCTV so that the Signaller can clearly see down the road in both directions'. Surely the CCTV, as on NR installations, is needed so that once the barriers are down the Signaller can see that no vehicles or persons are trapped within them and signals can be cleared. Or is the Signaller expected to wait until no vehicles are approaching the LC, in either direction, before lowering the barriers ? Which might not do much for the timetable.....

 

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The traditional installation on the modern national network would include the lowering sequence being activated automatically, by a treadle at a specified distance, so the VDU only comes on when the sequence is completed and the crossing has been closed to the road. The signalman then checks as said above and presses the crossing clear button for the signals to clear. 

 

That may or may not fit well with the signalling arrangements here. 

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42 minutes ago, caradoc said:

 

Something I find strange in the newsletter, regarding Seaward Way LC, is the statement that as the LC will now have full barriers, 'there is a need for CCTV so that the Signaller can clearly see down the road in both directions'. Surely the CCTV, as on NR installations, is needed so that once the barriers are down the Signaller can see that no vehicles or persons are trapped within them and signals can be cleared. Or is the Signaller expected to wait until no vehicles are approaching the LC, in either direction, before lowering the barriers ? Which might not do much for the timetable.....

 

I think that comment in the newsletter takes us back to 'Railpassion's comment about 'a not entirely honest explanation of the crossing situation'.  There has, so far as I can see been a considerable tangle of events, action, and misunderstanding regarding the level crossing and an 'misunderstanding' ignorance oft how a CCTV level crossing works is probably no more than a minor hint of all that 

 

Although design etc appears to have been carried out very much on the hoof (without even first agreeing the new Level Crossing Order)  I - like you - understand the crossing will be a full barrier CCTV controlled crossing and I - like you - would automatically assume that would be with the normal controls, for which circuit design already exists.   So is the WSR trying to reinvent the wheel or is what various people are saying simply betraying their ignorance?   Surely the traffic moment is known, the nature of road and pedestrian traffic is known, the nature of rail movements is known so all you do isa take the appropriate type of standard crossing and circuitry design and apply it unless the LCO requires certain variations thereto?

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34 minutes ago, Oldddudders said:

The traditional installation on the modern national network would include the lowering sequence being activated automatically, by a treadle at a specified distance, so the VDU only comes on when the sequence is completed and the crossing has been closed to the road. The signalman then checks as said above and presses the crossing clear button for the signals to clear. 

 

That may or may not fit well with the signalling arrangements here. 

MCB CCTV Crossing are operated by railway staff.  The person concerned operates the controls to start the road traffic signals and then lowers the barriers.  The barrier lower and raise may be done automatically.

 

The relevant information is here - commencing at the foot of Page 17 and continuing to the upper part of page 19

 

https://www.orr.gov.uk/sites/default/files/om/level_crossings_guidance.pdf

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The previous crossing had the flashing white light in the up direction but in the down direction, possibly uniquely, the  flashing white was incorporated into the signal using a three aspect signal head. The Stationmaster may know of similar arrangements elsewhere.

 

What started out as a fairly routine upgrade paid for by the council has become a fiasco endangering the future of the line. 

 

As late as October 2019 the Plc seemed to be discussing using semaphore signals and even relocating the signal box (!) despite being warned in an inspection in February 2018 that the crossing equipment would only last until March 2019.

With no trains to trouble contractors in 2020, last year would have been an ideal time to get the job done. 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by Railpassion
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1 hour ago, Railpassion said:

The previous crossing had the flashing white light in the up direction but in the down direction, possibly uniquely, the  flashing white was incorporated into the signal using a three aspect signal head. The Statiomnaster may know of similar arrangements elsewhere.

 

...

If I remember correctly,  Plassers crossing near West Ealing is like that. SN218 on the Up Greenford has it integrated, separate red/white flashing unit (DCI driver's crossing indicator) for the Down approach.

 

Will

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On 12/06/2021 at 13:47, Oldddudders said:

The traditional installation on the modern national network would include the lowering sequence being activated automatically, by a treadle at a specified distance, so the VDU only comes on when the sequence is completed and the crossing has been closed to the road. The signalman then checks as said above and presses the crossing clear button for the signals to clear. 

 

 

Not always the case...

 

If its a busy location (and thus more prone to misuse - i.e. vehicles not stopping for the red lights or overhanging the crossing when queuing) then its more likely that the signaller will be left to trigger the lowering sequence themselves - the 'treadle' (the occupation of a nominated track circuit / axle counter section more usually) simply calling up a picture and an audible alarm to alert the signaller.

 

Auto lower also significantly increases the chances of a 'look but did not see' situation occurring as someone standing still inside the barriers is a lot harder to see with a mere glance.

 

Occasionally Auto-lower is effectively there as a 'workaround'. Down near Chichester there is a crossing called Drayton and this had been an AHB for years but with increasing misuse the ORR (or whenever they were at the time) demanded Railtrack take action. Problem was that Chichester (single signalman working a small NX panel) already had 4 other CCTV crossings to look after and I believe that was technically one more than BR usually permitted for a single NX panel anyway. Therefore it was agreed that the new upgraded Drayton crossing would come equipped with an auto lower facility thus keeping signallers workload down to manageable levels.

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On 04/06/2021 at 13:26, Northmoor said:

There is no avoiding the fact that most preserved railways are on branch lines with low weight restrictions, while most of the preserved locos are Class 4 and heavier.  Even one of the lines which was built to main line standards - the GWR - has had well-publicised infrastructure problems in recent years.

It has to be said that the WSR are far from the only "culprit" in operating locos well above their line's original weight restriction.  I've been a life-long supporter of the SVR but have concerns that they have been "boiling frogs" when it comes to operating heavier and heavier locos, more and more routinely.

The SVR went through a programme of strengthening all their bridges to cope with heavier locos many years ago. The problem was recognised very early on and all bridges were strengthened. From what I can recall they all had new stronger girders added to bring them up to a higher axle loading that was commensurate with running larger locos. As you will be aware millions were spent a couple of years ago on keeping the Falling Sands viaduct in good order.

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9 hours ago, adb968008 said:

The same link suggests selling the dining train is being considered.

 

it does indeed, it was running at a loss and the PLC cannot come up with a plan that would turn it profitable, it was staffed from a local restaurant I think.

 

I wonder how many other lines want a complete dining train, or will it have to be sold piecemeal

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28 minutes ago, woodenhead said:

it does indeed, it was running at a loss and the PLC cannot come up with a plan that would turn it profitable, it was staffed from a local restaurant I think.

 

I wonder how many other lines want a complete dining train, or will it have to be sold piecemeal

It was originally staffed by WSRA volunteers although I don't now if that changed (but I know a lady who would know because she was one of those volunteers).  It definitely made a profit back then but if you tried to run it with paid staff you would need to charge some pretty hefty prices in order to cover the costs - just look at the extra cost of the dining options on things like 'Steam Dreams'.  

 

The WSR has the necessary rolling stock - assuming they have looked after it - and there is (or certainly was) a ready local market for the dining trains with plenty of regulars so it's not the daftest idea around but it would need to be put together in the right way and without volunteer support the financial case might not be very good.

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2 hours ago, The Stationmaster said:

It was originally staffed by WSRA volunteers although I don't now if that changed (but I know a lady who would know because she was one of those volunteers).  It definitely made a profit back then but if you tried to run it with paid staff you would need to charge some pretty hefty prices in order to cover the costs - just look at the extra cost of the dining options on things like 'Steam Dreams'.  

 

The WSR has the necessary rolling stock - assuming they have looked after it - and there is (or certainly was) a ready local market for the dining trains with plenty of regulars so it's not the daftest idea around but it would need to be put together in the right way and without volunteer support the financial case might not be very good.

Wow.

Most of the bigger preserved railways make more money from their catering than from actual tickets to travel. If the WSR was actually losing money from operating a dining train, I think that reflects very badly indeed on the management involved.  It does not matter if the cause was wrong product for the market, poor promotion, unable to get catering/serving staff an acceptable cost, carriages not available due to maintenance over-run; every one of these is a management issue.

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Re the QB, prior to my increased interest in the line apparently the WSRAssoc voted to

withdraw from commercial activities, in favour of the PLC. This lead to the PLC having

an agreement with the "local company" for catering services. The stock remains an asset

of the supporters association.

 

So catch 22

 

either run by PLC + caterers = loss; or WSRA would need to provide the

(volunteer) staff, in sufficient regular numbers, and rely on the PLC to run the train,

but counter to the non-commercial stance.

 

I'm left wondering why other railways are so keen on catering specials?

 

TONY

(The last line - very much tongue in cheek.)

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1 hour ago, Mulgabill said:

Re the QB, prior to my increased interest in the line apparently the WSRAssoc voted to

withdraw from commercial activities, in favour of the PLC. This lead to the PLC having

an agreement with the "local company" for catering services. The stock remains an asset

of the supporters association.

 

So catch 22

 

either run by PLC + caterers = loss; or WSRA would need to provide the

(volunteer) staff, in sufficient regular numbers, and rely on the PLC to run the train,

but counter to the non-commercial stance.

 

I'm left wondering why other railways are so keen on catering specials?

 

TONY

(The last line - very much tongue in cheek.)

So in effect the PLC taking it over was the same sort of approach to doing things their way as calling in a local builder to relay track at Minehead.  Obviously while the PLC seem to think that they know better it appears that they have difficulty in many areas in living up to their own hype and ambition.  

 

Incidentally the volunteers who did the job (for over 20 years) seemed to have no trouble finding the necessary people as they  - from what I know - saw it as a way of supporting the railway and its finances.   

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6 hours ago, Mulgabill said:

Re the QB, prior to my increased interest in the line apparently the WSRAssoc voted to

withdraw from commercial activities, in favour of the PLC. This lead to the PLC having

an agreement with the "local company" for catering services. The stock remains an asset

of the supporters association.

 

So catch 22

 

either run by PLC + caterers = loss; or WSRA would need to provide the

(volunteer) staff, in sufficient regular numbers, and rely on the PLC to run the train,

but counter to the non-commercial stance.

 

I'm left wondering why other railways are so keen on catering specials?

 

TONY

(The last line - very much tongue in cheek.)

 

Sorry, I omitted to say, the QB set was repainted last year, and has yet to work since, I believe. Now in a

very smart maroon livery, it is presumably up together mechanically also.

 

TONY

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8 hours ago, Mulgabill said:

Re the QB, prior to my increased interest in the line apparently the WSRAssoc voted to

withdraw from commercial activities, in favour of the PLC. This lead to the PLC having

an agreement with the "local company" for catering services. The stock remains an asset

of the supporters association.

 

So catch 22

 

either run by PLC + caterers = loss; or WSRA would need to provide the

(volunteer) staff, in sufficient regular numbers, and rely on the PLC to run the train,

but counter to the non-commercial stance.

 

I'm left wondering why other railways are so keen on catering specials?

 

TONY

(The last line - very much tongue in cheek.)

That's not quite how it was. The QB was indeed operated by the WSRA and was almost fully volunteer operated. The Coombs report recommended that commercial operations such as this should transfer to the plc, and this was done. The train continued to operate successfully with the same volunteers but under the plc banner. In early 2018 a combination of factors led to the two lead volunteers resigning at short notice. Given that we had bookings, we had little choice to bring in a commercial kitchen crew to prepare the food. The remainder of the staff remained as largely volunteers.

In other businesses, its the food that makes the money. Not sure why we can't make that work here.

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11 hours ago, Mulgabill said:

 

Sorry, I omitted to say, the QB set was repainted last year, and has yet to work since, I believe. Now in a

very smart maroon livery, it is presumably up together mechanically also.

 

TONY

Which I find odd, it was in a stand out Pullman style livery and now it just looks like any other train on the line - not sure how that would help move it into profit, you want something that stands out to draw attention to the service.

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Playing devil's advocate.

 

It was a tired faux Pullman livery, and was a discordant element when formed

in  a train with normal stock. It would now give a better overall aesthetic, especially

as much of the fleet has also now been repainted. (learnt that terminology from CK).

 

Still can't understand why there isn't money to be earned, unless internal boundaries

are preventing the WSR "family" working together, again.

 

TONY

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