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Author Topic: Heritage lines as public transport  (Read 795 times)
grahame
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« on: November 07, 2021, 06:11:57 am »

From Christian Wolmar - a look at heritage lines as public transport

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I once needed to reach Dunster on the West Somerset Line and used the railway to get me there from Taunton, as did several other members of the cricket team I was playing for. It was by no means cheap but it was better than the slow windy bus along the Minehead road. However, the big downside is that the southern terminus at Bishops Lydeard is four miles from Taunton railway station.

Good article laying down many of the issues involved and some interesting stats (scroll down the page to read it - it is not his top subject in this article) - as ever very much a pipe dream (and a frustrating one) in some places ... while at others it would be madness.

Not a new topic to us - is there another thread I should be linking this to?
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« Reply #1 on: November 07, 2021, 07:31:17 am »

The very existence of heritage lines is often due to the lack of commercial viability at the time the lines were closed (yes I know hind sight is 20 20 and it can be argued that the closure was wrong at the time)

Heritage lines are built on a largely volunteer operated model with heritage equipment.  It is the heritage equipment and the operation of it that sets the scene as an attraction.

Could some lines operate a 'public' service yes with investment and funding, however I they would loose the charm of the scene that have set and would 'public' service take precedence over the heritage operation because with a 'public' service comes a commitment     
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« Reply #2 on: November 07, 2021, 10:33:35 am »

Many heritage lines COULD offer a proper public transport service.
In the Summer tourist season this could be done with steam or other heritage trains.
Outside of the tourist season, something more modern and cheaper to operate should be used, probably a modernish DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) initially, with a battery train being a longer term aim.

In the case of the West Somerset railway, numerous plans have been proposed, but little has been achieved.
With growing concerns about climate change, perhaps we will see some action ?
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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« Reply #3 on: November 07, 2021, 10:58:24 am »

The very existence of heritage lines is often due to the lack of commercial viability at the time the lines were closed (yes I know hind sight is 20 20 and it can be argued that the closure was wrong at the time)

Heritage lines are built on a largely volunteer operated model with heritage equipment.  It is the heritage equipment and the operation of it that sets the scene as an attraction.

Could some lines operate a 'public' service yes with investment and funding, however I they would loose the charm of the scene that have set and would 'public' service take precedence over the heritage operation because with a 'public' service comes a commitment     

It is becoming increasingly clear that some heritage railways are really struggling to keep that charming "scene" in place, and the West Somerset Railway is a very good example of one such route where real "national rail" potential exists and should be properly explored.

Equally, there are some heritage operations who do an exemplary job of keeping those "scenes" alive and vibrant who have minimal "national rail" potential.

Is it therefore time to consider a separation of the two types of operation, with "national rail" potential being paramount on the former, and heritage/preservation to the fore on the latter?

That way, history can be preserved to inform and enthuse future generations, whilst also partially enabling an expanded "national rail" network to help them combat the Climate Emergency with.

Many heritage lines COULD offer a proper public transport service.
In the Summer tourist season this could be done with steam or other heritage trains.
Outside of the tourist season, something more modern and cheaper to operate should be used, probably a modernish DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) initially, with a battery train being a longer term aim.

This is pretty much how we operate the Guingamp-Paimpol line now, and how we plan to operate the Auray-Pontivy route once it is fully reopened.
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« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2021, 12:12:29 pm »

I think that the shareholders/members if these Heritage assets ought to be fully consulted and possibly even have the final say.

They have all invested money / serious number of volunteer hours & if they are forced to go ‘public’ really ought to be recompensed in some way as a minimum. IMHO (in my humble opinion), obviously - but any heritage organisation not wanting to go that route will have my full support.
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« Reply #5 on: November 07, 2021, 12:34:03 pm »

The very existence of heritage lines is often due to the lack of commercial viability at the time the lines were closed ...

'Commercial viability' is a test that has to be applied with care in this context. Much of the national rail network is not strictly 'viable', but is funded because there is a consensus that it is socially necessary.

I think I'm right in saying that the Minehead line, like Keswick, was not closed through lack of passengers. These and other similar branches were closed because it was felt that buses were capable of providing an adequate substitute more cheaply.
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« Reply #6 on: November 07, 2021, 01:01:08 pm »

Yes, though under present day conditions the bus is getting worse. Mainly due to traffic congestion.
If a proper rail service was re-instated on the Minehead branch, then traffic congestion would be reduced.
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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« Reply #7 on: November 07, 2021, 01:30:45 pm »

I think that the shareholders/members if these Heritage assets ought to be fully consulted and possibly even have the final say.

They have all invested money / serious number of volunteer hours & if they are forced to go ‘public’ really ought to be recompensed in some way as a minimum. IMHO (in my humble opinion), obviously - but any heritage organisation not wanting to go that route will have my full support.

I would certainly agree that fair compensation should be paid in that instance. If you take the business case for reinstating the Uckfield-Lewes line to the "national rail" network for example, there are two fully-costed options for either allowing the existing heritage Lavender Line to run alongside (in the single line case) or be relocated (in the double line case), and that's absolutely as it should be, in my view.

I do think however, that we need to be very careful in terms of consultation, particularly if it included any form of veto power, that we were truly getting the views of shareholders/members, and not having them spoken for - let's say for the sake of theoretical argument - by a CEO (Chief Executive Officer) who has a track record of being perfectly happy to accept bailout money, but absolutely refuses to consider any form of compromise that doesn't include the complete retention of the status quo.
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« Reply #8 on: November 07, 2021, 01:39:33 pm »

I think that the shareholders/members if these Heritage assets ought to be fully consulted and possibly even have the final say.

They have all invested money / serious number of volunteer hours & if they are forced to go ‘public’ really ought to be recompensed in some way as a minimum. IMHO (in my humble opinion), obviously - but any heritage organisation not wanting to go that route will have my full support.

IN GENERAL, I agree, for most heritage lines.

But in the particular case of the West Somerset Railway I disagree. The original purpose of the preserved WSR was to run a year round commuter service, and AFAIK (as far as I know) this is still the stated aim in the "articles of association"
So no good complaining or demanding compensation if this original aim is belatedly achieved.

I would hope that a holiday season heritage operation and a viable public transport operation could co-exist.

The obvious way to achieve this would be to operate the same timetable all year round, but with heritage or modern stock according to the season.
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A proper intercity train has a minimum of 8 coaches, gangwayed throughout, with first at one end, and a full sized buffet car between first and standard.
It has space for cycles, surfboards,luggage etc.
A 5 car DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) is not a proper inter-city train. The 5+5 and 9 car DMUs are almost as bad.
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« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2021, 05:16:15 pm »

The very existence of heritage lines is often due to the lack of commercial viability at the time the lines were closed ...

'Commercial viability' is a test that has to be applied with care in this context. Much of the national rail network is not strictly 'viable', but is funded because there is a consensus that it is socially necessary.

I think I'm right in saying that the Minehead line, like Keswick, was not closed through lack of passengers. These and other similar branches were closed because it was felt that buses were capable of providing an adequate substitute more cheaply.

And that is why I qualified it with (yes I know hind sight is 20 20 and it can be argued that the closure was wrong at the time)

With regards heritage lines operating a public service, yes this is a decision for the line's share holders.  There are some that could operate a public service with funding the challenge would be blending that with its peak tourist / visitor season
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2021, 10:05:45 pm »

Many heritage lines COULD offer a proper public transport service.
In the Summer tourist season this could be done with steam or other heritage trains.
Outside of the tourist season, something more modern and cheaper to operate should be used, probably a modernish DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) initially, with a battery train being a longer term aim.
I think this principal, if the issues of toilets and accessibility on heritage trains can be addressed, is a key argument in favour of doing something like this. At present, in the tourist season routes such as the Cambrian Coast Line and (probably) Bristol-Weymouth suffer from crowding on trains that provide perfectly adequate capacity at other times of year. However, the costs of modernish DMUs appear to prohibit stock standing idle during the quieter periods. Heritage railways appear to be an answer to this conundrum, given that they provide a 'contra-peak' 'demand' for the modernish DMUs allowing them to be kept busy all year.

I think that the shareholders/members if these Heritage assets ought to be fully consulted and possibly even have the final say.

They have all invested money / serious number of volunteer hours & if they are forced to go ‘public’ really ought to be recompensed in some way as a minimum. IMHO (in my humble opinion), obviously - but any heritage organisation not wanting to go that route will have my full support.
I'm not really sure what I think about giving the heritage organisations a final say, there are certainly arguments on both sides, but in some case I wonder whether a heritage line could be offered a different line as compensation for the one they would be losing. I had this idea in the context of TrawsLinkCymru's aspirations to see a railway built between Carmarthen and Aberystwyth. This would probably require Network Rail to take over the trackbed of the Gwili Railway - my suggestion was that the government compulsary purchase part of another former route in the area (perhaps the CardiBach between Whitland and Cardigan, since that has near-zero potential as a public transport route) of a similar length to what the Gwili own, and possibly have Network Rail build some track, and then exchange this with the Gwili's line so that the heritage group get a similar set up to their current one but in a different location to make way for the return of main line services.
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« Reply #11 on: November 08, 2021, 06:35:17 am »

I have suggested in the past that WSR could have a small parcel type service from Norton Fitzwarren to Minehead.

Its a two hour round journey between the two points,not to mention the feul being used.
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« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2021, 11:11:04 am »

I was involved with the WSR prior to and for a few years following the reopenings of 1976-79.  The intention was to run a year-round public transport service.  Thwarted by lack of cash, extortionate demands for running powers over BR (British Rail(ways)) between Norton Fitzwarren and Taunton, NUR blacking the project (because of Western National bus driver members' interests).  Loss-making year round DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) services were to have been subsidised by a heritage steam train operation in the summer.

40+ years on, and things are very different.  There's a huge vested interest amongst the present owners and supporters in keeping things as they are, unspoiled by public service trains, the awkwardness of junction arrangements at Norton Fitzwarren, the perennial "lack of rolling stock" on the big railway

I don't think it would take a mega investment in the infrastructure for the two to be able to co-exist, especially with the replacement now of Seaward Way LC (Level Crossing) at Alcombe.  It really would be a bit of a cinch to operate a very comprehensive mixed timetable if the section between Minehead and Dunster was double tracked, and the crossing loops re-instated at Kentsford and Leigh Wood.  The problem as I see it would be the operation of signalboxes.  Sticking everything on a panel box would ruin the heritage flavour, but finding enough people to run a 14 or 16 hour railway wouldn't be cheap.

The Newquay line, of similar length to the Minehead branch, has just the one signalbox and passing loop between St Blazey and Newquay, at Goonbarrow Jcn.  The Minehead line, to operate heritage and day-to-day trains in parallel, would need three or four 'boxes, assuming remote control of the two reinstated loops.  It's a big commitment, for whoever would take it on.
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« Reply #13 on: November 08, 2021, 11:59:13 am »

I was involved with the WSR prior to and for a few years following the reopenings of 1976-79.  The intention was to run a year-round public transport service.  Thwarted by lack of cash, extortionate demands for running powers over BR (British Rail(ways)) between Norton Fitzwarren and Taunton, NUR blacking the project (because of Western National bus driver members' interests).  Loss-making year round DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) services were to have been subsidised by a heritage steam train operation in the summer.

40+ years on, and things are very different.  There's a huge vested interest amongst the present owners and supporters in keeping things as they are, unspoiled by public service trains, the awkwardness of junction arrangements at Norton Fitzwarren, the perennial "lack of rolling stock" on the big railway

I don't think it would take a mega investment in the infrastructure for the two to be able to co-exist, especially with the replacement now of Seaward Way LC (Level Crossing) at Alcombe.  It really would be a bit of a cinch to operate a very comprehensive mixed timetable if the section between Minehead and Dunster was double tracked, and the crossing loops re-instated at Kentsford and Leigh Wood.  The problem as I see it would be the operation of signalboxes.  Sticking everything on a panel box would ruin the heritage flavour, but finding enough people to run a 14 or 16 hour railway wouldn't be cheap.

The Newquay line, of similar length to the Minehead branch, has just the one signalbox and passing loop between St Blazey and Newquay, at Goonbarrow Jcn.  The Minehead line, to operate heritage and day-to-day trains in parallel, would need three or four 'boxes, assuming remote control of the two reinstated loops.  It's a big commitment, for whoever would take it on.

If we were, for sake of argument, to introduce grahame's suggested timetable below...



...Could we not switch out the signalboxes in favour of a panel box for the winter service, then switch them back in on the Bishop's Lydeard-Minehead section for the summer daytime heritage service? That way - in theory at least - everyone's a winner.
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« Reply #14 on: November 08, 2021, 12:17:18 pm »



...Could we not switch out the signalboxes in favour of a panel box for the winter service, then switch them back in on the Bishop's Lydeard-Minehead section for the summer daytime heritage service? That way - in theory at least - everyone's a winner.

The problem is that the boxes at Minehead, Blue Anchor and Williton control level crossings, and the one at Bishops Lydeard is the fringe to Exeter Panel.

Switching out is an attractive idea, but I can't see how it could be achieved.  Unless the whole line goes onto some kind of remote, centrally controlled signalling with the "Disneyfication" of what's already there to create the illusion that it's doing something operational
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