How many of our Heritage Railways are in trouble?

Discussion in 'Railtours & Preservation' started by Maybach, 27 Mar 2019.

  1. Maybach

    Maybach Member

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    Yes, partly.

    From ‘Steam Railway’ magazine last August:

    LLANGOLLEN ENGINEERING SUFFERS £330,000 LOSS

    A loss of £330,000 at the Llangollen Railway in 2018 has been largely attributed to issues with the line’s engineering business and under-quoting on major projects.
     
  2. BigB

    BigB Member

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    I am advised that the Scottish Railway Preservation Society have requested the return of D49 Morayshire which was Llangollen for overhaul from 2016 - due back 2018 , but now seriously overrun and not yet completed.
    I don't know the reasons for this overrun - poor initial estimating of the work, emergent work, lack of capacity or poor project management/oversight are many possible reasons - but it is connected to the financial position Llangollen is in.
    There is not space for this at present at Bo'ness so will be stored elsewhere prior to completion of the overhaul when it moves back to the new facilities being built there, so is not a decision the SRPS directors will have taken lightly.

    I'm not sure if the engineering side is completely separate from the railway operations - sometimes this can buffer one part from another albeit with administration costs associated. If they are not separate, then overstretching funds on a line extension maybe relying on income from engineering that does not materialise is a (financial) accident waiting to happen.

    I do hope that we are not on the brink of realising that the business model many preserved railways operate to relied too heavily on a core of very dedicated volunteers that may have now "retired"; they may be finding out that the only way to replace them is by employing staff and that the economics of this on a preserved railway - with the costs associated - may not add up?
     
    Last edited: 11 Feb 2020
  3. neilmc

    neilmc Member

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    In December I made a journey on the East Lancs Santa Special, along with the family. I thought parking might be a problem, so selected a MetroLink station with a big car park and came in to Bury by tram.

    They ran something like a 50-minute frequency every day for a fortnight. That equates to a ten-coach train crammed with families with a steam engine on one end. Last year they carried something like 40,000 passengers, and, at a cost above £20, probably had takings of above a million pounds. A great feat of logistics, not least ensuring kids didn't get to glimpse more than one Santa!

    A million pounds. But there again the ELR is close to a major conurbation, with good public transport access, a huge volunteer base and well-kept stock and locomotives. The grotto effect was brilliant, the gifts were decent and the staff very professional. Couldn't fault it.

    I don't want to be nasty, but a lot of the preserved railway setups in the last couple of decades are running on any old freight line in remote locations, with cast-off rolling stock, no steam locos, a very sparse service (not enough volunteers) and nothing very much to see at either end. They will ALWAYS struggle, hardy enthusiasts might drive up to these places to give them the once-over but with not being able to do credible Thomas Days or Santa Specials to draw in the families I cannot see them ever thriving. I would LOVE to be proved wrong though!
     
  4. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    Even if the engineering side is set up as a separate subsidiary, if it makes a loss, then the money has to come from somewhere.
     
  5. Belperpete

    Belperpete Member

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    As you say, practically all preserved railways suffer from this problem. I think the best thing is to regard them as unpaid advertisers, if their pictures encourage other people to visit.

    I agree with your comments about the food at Sheffield Park. I wonder if this is part of the problem at the Llangollen - although my last visit was awhile back, I don't recall them having much of a food or souvenir presence at Llangollen. Many railways make a significant proportion of their income from these off-train sales. They should surely be aiming to at least sell souvenirs to all those gongoozlers on the bridge. Perhaps they should be marketing Llangollen station an an attraction in its own right, encouraging people to visit the station even if not travelling on the train.

    I suspect that another part of the Llangollen's problem may lie in its marketing, or rather lack off. People drive many, many miles for a trip on the F&WHR and TR. The Llangollen being so much closer to significant centres of population should do far better. But it will only do so if it markets itself adequately in those centres of population. Unfortunately such marketing takes time and money - not spending enough on marketing is a false economy. It may be just my impression, but the Llangollen seems to have much less of a "presence" than the F&WHR or TR, for example.
     
  6. Maybach

    Maybach Member

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    My friend is a member of the Llangollen Railway Society and has also received the “begging letter” alluded to above. However, he’s in two minds. He likes and cares about the line but doesn’t feel he should have to foot the bill for what appears to be a massive management failure. Given the recent problems on the West Somerset Railway, I think he has a point. Sooner or later the members of these societies and associations are going to get fed up at having to keep bailing out heritage lines that are badly managed.

    I would hate to see one of our heritage railways go under but can’t help thinking that such an event would serve as a wakeup call for the rest of the sector.
     
  7. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    I note they seem not to have gone public with the appeal - why not?
     
  8. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    Is Corwen going to have a big car park? That will help - Llangollen is a bit cramped and busy.
    With the right marketing it should be busy, being a convenient stop off point for a lot of people on their way to/from holidays on the Welsh coast and Snowdonia. Easy park at Corwen, get the train to Llangollen, walk about and lunch/afternoon tea, train back to car.
    Shame the line is blocked for the extension to have gone the other way to Pont-Cysyllte.
     
  9. reddragon

    reddragon Member

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    I was up there last year and chose not to visit only because a chunk of the line was shut for the extension. I am sure many are awaiting the full Corwen extension before they visit.
     
  10. John Luxton

    John Luxton Member

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    For some time at Llangollen Station they have had two catering outlets one "Carraiges Tearoom" which is located in the dock close to the signal box and very visible from the bridge. The other is the station tea rooms. Compared to say National Trust and other independent museum refreshment facilities say St Fagans - prices as quite low. I am not sure if the catering might contracted out because when one pays by card payment is to something like Taylor Catering Services whereas fares and shop purchases are paid to the railway.

    From time to time during galas they operate the Henry Robertson suite as a real ale bar, plus they operate real ale trains. I wonder why they do not follow Ffestiniog / Severn Valley by becoming pub operators?

    Something I also find disappointing is the lack of on train refreshments in recent years, except on some trains at galas. I don't know if that is a deliberate ploy to encourage sales at Carrog tea rooms - but presumably when (if?!) Corwen opens there won't be a need to dwell at Carrog for running round and one wonders if putting the buffet back on the train would be better? I think people often like eating and drinking whilst in motion!

    I think marketing could be an issue. FWHR never seem to miss a trick - displays at London Stations, Pullman car to the Manchester Caravan Show last month, portable track loco and bug boxes to Albert Dock, Liverpool and Shrewsbury Flower Shows. They also appear to ensure they get UK wide television exposure.

    Some months ago I was watching the S4C travel programme Codi Pac which featured Llangollen area and apart from the presenter standing on the bridge at Llangollen and mentioning the railway in passing that was it!

    I spend a lot of my leisure time in Wales and as a consequence take quite a bit of interest in Welsh news sources - Daily Post / BBC Wales etc and have been aware that Llangollen Railway achievements e.g. Corwen have been featured - I think they do get their message across to the people of Wales - but the population is small. I am not convinced they get their message across to the large populations of North West / West Midlands England.

    John
     
  11. John Luxton

    John Luxton Member

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    I suppose it might undermine confidence with the travelling public? But WSR did put the cards on the table - which seems to have work.

    John
     
  12. John Luxton

    John Luxton Member

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    The station is located next to the main Car Park for Corwen - that box has been ticked! A few years ago I think it was Heritage Railway ran an article on the possibilities of one day building back to Ruabon despite the obstructions. It was very shortsighted not to have protected the route to Ruabon - but wasn't that down to the council who are actually the landlords?
     
  13. 83A

    83A Member

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    1) I often on a Sunday combine my interests and ride my motorbike to a heritage railway, its brilliant for getting to different line side locations and getting an action view. However I always make a point of heading to a station and buying some food in the café and or getting something from the gift shop. We should all support our hobbies in whatever way we can.

    2) I think preserved railways and some enthusiasts also need to be aware that probably the majority of the income is from non-enthusiasts on a day out, be that on holiday or families with young children. It’s essential this is considered and the toilets are clean, good tea and coffee, a car park and ensure the place is tidy. As a parent I know how important facilities like baby changing are.

    There is also the general state of repair to consider, there are a large number of locations with sidings full of rusting stock “linear scrap yards” I believe is the term. While this might be of interest to some, for the public its and eye sore. I once worked at a tourist attraction in Devon and I remember the owner telling me the only thing people remember or complain about after their visit is the cleanness of the toilets and the quality of the tea!



    3) I also wonder are there actually too many preserved railways/museums in the UK? There are rather a lot and they are all to a certain extent competing for the same pool of money/volunteers and heritage locos and stock.
     
  14. carlberry

    carlberry Established Member

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    Without it's changed in the last couple of years the field is hired in from a local farmer (at quite a cost) for the events and, I suspect, the residents on the road down to the station would kick up a fuss if it was used as a car park on a regular basis.
     
  15. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    I don't think there's necessarily a problem with declining passengers numbers - most times recently when I've been on preserved railways (normally mid week, so not exactly peak time) they're more often than not busy. In fact, often busy to the point of being a turn-off. It's one thing sitting in a carriage full of screaming kids on a proper train when going somewhere, but in my view this isn't acceptable on a heritage railway when one is supposed to be going for a pleasurable journey.

    I suspect the railways doing well are those which appeal to the oldies, especially the coach tour brigade. To be fair I'd have thought Llangollen would fit into that category, but perhaps that area is simply too saturated with such railways (Talyllyn, Ffestiniog, Welsh Highland, Vale of Rheidol, Welshpool & Llanfair) and most of these offer particular features which appeal to the oldies like tea rooms and gift shops, Llangollen falls a little short in that respect.
     
  16. 47434

    47434 Member

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    I am not surprised that heritage railways are struggling - the reality is that many families do not bring their kids to them anymore. The last time I visited a railway it was largely being enjoyed by the retirement market. Sad really but has the electronic world so many are immersed in removed interest in our history?
     
  17. 4141

    4141 Member

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    Have to disagree, since only a few weeks ago many lines ran well filled (or even sold out) Santa Specials - I'm pretty sure that they weren't packed with pensioners!
     
  18. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Established Member

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    I also disagree that they are only attracting the retirement market.(...which actually is a growing sector). The Santa Specials on many railways are packed with families - often Grandparents and grandchildren, and now with added "Winter Wonderlights". The special events like GCR Paw Patrol are also very popular with younger visitors. Most heritage railways are well aware of the need for as many sources of interest ....and income.
     
  19. 83A

    83A Member

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    So you are advocating that children should be banned from heritage railways then?
     
  20. paul1609

    paul1609 Established Member

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    On the heritage railway I work on our income is derived from:-
    a) Santa Special Trains
    b) Pullman Dining Trains
    c) Thomas the Tank Events
    d) Summer School Holiday Running
    e) Everything else
    On train catering is a large income stream on our services and includes contracts with UK Holiday Coaches and with the Cruise Ship operators who buy a number of trains throughout the year even on days we are normally closed.
    It's all very hard work and we never have enough money to spend on all projects we want but we normally manage to balance the books.
     
  21. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    In a perfect world yes! However in the real world compartments are a practical solution. However if one is paying what is now quite a bit of money for a ticket, I kind of expect a compartment to myself.

    Now someone will no doubt say this is unreasonable. Fine - in which case there's a high likelihood I simply won't bother travelling. Unlike the proper network where people may well *need* to travel from A to B, heritage railways are very much a choice. If people experience a day out from hell then they won't repeat it again, which will represent lost income, taking us back to heritage railways struggling.
     
  22. duffield

    duffield Member

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    If you time your visits carefully, like I do, you can often get nearly a whole carriage to yourself, never mind a compartment.
    I'm sure most railways will help steer you towards quieter days/services if you're not sure which they would be.
     
  23. 4141

    4141 Member

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    Is it just me who finds this jaw droppingly selfish? Don't get me wrong, I detest screaming kids as much as the next curmudgeon, but REALLY?
     
  24. Bletchleyite

    Bletchleyite Veteran Member

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    Dare I suggest visiting the ones that are open on weekdays on weekdays, then? When the kids are in school there will be none there.
     
  25. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    Whether it may or may not be selfish doesn't really make much difference. If someone has a bad experience then they won't repeat the experience, which is a problem if we're talking about businesses who need to maximise their revenue.

    Something like the Snowdon Mountain Railway can get away with it as they provide a genuinely unique experience and the nature of their operation means they will always have high demand and limited capacity. This doesn't apply to the vast majority of preserved railways.
     
  26. bramling

    bramling Established Member

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    I wish that could always be relied upon to hold true!
     
  27. MotorcycleAlan

    MotorcycleAlan Member

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    I find it is not usually the kids that are the problem, but the clueless parents, many of whom allow kids to do whatever they like, including putting their little feet on seats. This applies equally in restaurants, pubs, shops and anywhere else parents take them. Not just heritage railways, but I know of other organisations who have concerns whether the smartphone/social media obsessed generation will have any appetite to volunteer in the way we have, for all our adult lives. Having volunteered trackside, it is difficult to enforce the no phone use rule (except emergency or operational matters) to some who must find out how many "likes" they might have had in the last 5 minutes.
     
  28. reddragon

    reddragon Member

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    Perhaps you could book & pay for a whole carriage for yourself so not to drive another heritage railway under?

    Families spend money. Grumpy old gits who want their own compartment do not.

    On my railway family days are very profitable. Enthusiast galas have empty catering facilities and low shop sales!
     
  29. Calthrop

    Calthrop Established Member

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    I'm reminded of an article in the Ffestiniog Railway Society's quarterly magazine long ago: pondering the issue of children travelling, vis-a-vis enthusiasts who wish to enjoy the journey, photograph, etc., without too much distraction / disruption. The article essentially discussed this matter seriously, but with a leavening of humour -- it had the wonderful title of "Kiddies, try the prison coach".
     
  30. Meerkat

    Meerkat Established Member

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    And the families probably get annoyed with the enthusiasts who insist on standing up/leaning out blocking the view for everyone else whilst they insist on filming/photographing the whole journey.
    “What was the view like?”
    “Mainly it was some grubby old bloke’s butt crack”
     

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