Profitable Railways

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Jan Mayen

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Are there any railways in the United Kingdom which made a regular profit before Covid?
I ask as a follow up to the thread about Llangollen Railway and it's receivers.
I assume the following did make money:
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Dartmouth
Vale of Reheidol?

Any others?
 
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simonw

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Are there any railways in the United Kingdom which made a regular profit before Covid?
I ask as a follow up to the thread about Llangollen Railway and it's receivers.
I assume the following did make money:
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Dartmouth
Vale of Reheidol?

Any others?
I imagine the Brecon mountain railway does.

One has to be very carefully, however, how you define profitable.
 

1955LR

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Do you mean a surplus or a profit , big difference. especially if part of the organisation is a not for profit company limited by Guarantee
 

steamybrian

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A simple answer surely is that if any railway made repeated losses each year then they would be in financial difficulties.
Most if not all heritage railways have two parallel separate accounts/companies... one an operating company and the other is the society.
 

simonw

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A simple answer surely is that if any railway made repeated losses each year then they would be in financial difficulties.
Most preserved railways are highly reliant on support from members and supporters, who provide financial and volunteer support.
They are also supported to a greater or lesser extent by loco owning groups, who, although they mostly get steaming fees, often have to launch appeals for overhauls.

Also look at the number of appeals launched to pay for bridge repairs, embankment slippage etc.
 

Flying Phil

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Another thing to consider is the amount of donations/legacies/share purchases etc that go into the "pot" for heritage railways.
 

Mcr Warrior

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Presumably we are effectively only talking about heritage railways having been 'profitable' (pre COVID)?
 

Jan Mayen

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What I meant by profit or surplus is they don't get donations or grants. I'm referring to pre Covid times.
 

Flying Phil

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Another factor is the amount being allocated to maintenance of the infrastructure as well as the rolling stock. As others have said, do you account for voluntary labour?
It is quite possible for a Railway to show a paper "profit" for one or two years by deferring certain items, but they then come back to bite!....
 

Dunfanaghy Rd

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The 3 railways mentioned by the OP have little or no volunteer involvement AFAIK. What there is in of the 'looking after the flowerbed' category. I assume, therefore, that they balance their books.
Pat
 

BayPaul

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Dart Valley Railway PLC (The Paignton - Dartmouth Steam Railway) made a profit before tax of £580k in 2019, on a turnover of £5.6M, and paid £75k of tax on that, along with £114k of dividends, so is nicely profitable. They also had £7M of reserves at that point. That of course includes the boat and bus operations, as well as the railway, but all of the indications in the annual report are that all parts of the business are profitable - carrying 230k rail passengers, 250k boat passengers, and 100k bus passengers in 2019. I understand that although there is some heritage side to the operations, effectively the entire business is run in a commercial way, so these are the complete accounts, unlike a charity operated railway, which split things rather differently.

https://find-and-update.company-information.service.gov.uk/company/00852020/filing-history makes very interesting reading.
 

mpthomson

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The plc side of the NMYR also made a profit of c£580k in the last year pre-covid, all of which it Gift Aided to the Trust side.
 

JKF

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I think if the Dartmouth line ever faced difficulties as a preserved operation there would be a reasonable case to be made for adding it back into the national network. It’d stack up reasonably well on Altnabreac’s formula, with the tourist demand mitigating the lower population I think. Maybe there could be a thread on preserved railways that would/could be viable as part of the national network, although I’m not sure I could think of many others (Swanage? East Lancs?)
 

BayPaul

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I think if the Dartmouth line ever faced difficulties as a preserved operation there would be a reasonable case to be made for adding it back into the national network. It’d stack up reasonably well on Altnabreac’s formula, with the tourist demand mitigating the lower population I think. Maybe there could be a thread on preserved railways that would/could be viable as part of the national network, although I’m not sure I could think of many others (Swanage? East Lancs?)
You are probably right, but realistically it is unlikely to get into that position. It is very well run and nicely profitable. I suspect it carries a lot more passengers as a heritage line than it would do as a national rail line, which would probably see its 7(ish) carriages every 45 mins on peak days reduced to a 3-4 carriage DMU every hour.
 

pdeaves

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You are probably right, but realistically it is unlikely to get into that position. It is very well run and nicely profitable. I suspect it carries a lot more passengers as a heritage line than it would do as a national rail line, which would probably see its 7(ish) carriages every 45 mins on peak days reduced to a 3-4 carriage DMU every hour.
Usage numbers are very highly likely to be closely linked to the type of train on offer. I personally am not convinced that route X should rejoin the national network on the basis that the very thing that attracts customers today would disappear tomorrow.
 

BayPaul

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Usage numbers are very highly likely to be closely linked to the type of train on offer. I personally am not convinced that route X should rejoin the national network on the basis that the very thing that attracts customers today would disappear tomorrow.
I agree entirely. If the P&DSR became a national rail line, I think traffic and parking problems in Dartmouth would increase significantly, as it is currently used as a proper form of transport by thousands of holidaymakers wanting to visit Dartmouth, who would have no interest in chugging there on a 150. Personally, I would like to see it going the other way, and sharing track to allow steam trains to run from Torquay through to Kingswear, though that would require some expensive pointwork at Torquay to allow the loco to run around.
 

davetheguard

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I agree entirely. If the P&DSR became a national rail line, I think traffic and parking problems in Dartmouth would increase significantly, as it is currently used as a proper form of transport by thousands of holidaymakers wanting to visit Dartmouth, who would have no interest in chugging there on a 150. Personally, I would like to see it going the other way, and sharing track to allow steam trains to run from Torquay through to Kingswear, though that would require some expensive pointwork at Torquay to allow the loco to run around.

I'm not sure I agree with this hypothesis. On the contrary, I think National Rail trains could play a key role in reducing the amount of cars clogging up the streets of Dartmouth. A trip on a train is a novelty for many motorists, whatever the sort of rolling stock. It works very well in St. Ives!
 

BayPaul

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I'm not sure I agree with this hypothesis. On the contrary, I think National Rail trains could play a key role in reducing the amount of cars clogging up the streets of Dartmouth. A trip on a train is a novelty for many motorists, whatever the sort of rolling stock. It works very well in St. Ives!
Watching the number of people emptying out of a seven coach steam train in Kingswear on a busy summer Tuesday, I can't see any way that National Rail could take anything like the number of people that the steam train does. They would obviously be able to take more people off peak (when zero are carried on the steam train), but that isn't so relevant.
 

paul1609

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Are there any railways in the United Kingdom which made a regular profit before Covid?
I ask as a follow up to the thread about Llangollen Railway and it's receivers.
I assume the following did make money:
Snowdon Mountain Railway
Dartmouth
Vale of Reheidol?

Any others?
The Vale of Reheidol has been operated by a not for profit trust since 2009?
 

davetheguard

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Watching the number of people emptying out of a seven coach steam train in Kingswear on a busy summer Tuesday, I can't see any way that National Rail could take anything like the number of people that the steam train does. They would obviously be able to take more people off peak (when zero are carried on the steam train), but that isn't so relevant.

Obviously I agree that a long loco-hauled train can convey more people per se than, say, a two-car 150 (although St. Ives branch trains are usually 4 cars, and they need to be because of the large amount of people they are taking off the roads).

However, a lot of people travelling on that seven coach steam train from the Paignton direction will be travelling purely for the pleasure of the journey: although a lot will then jump on the ferry over to Dartmouth, some will stay in Kingswear and perhaps have lunch or a beer in its two pubs, some may even return straight away on the same train back to Paignton. The latter two groups wouldn't have driven to Dartmouth anyway. A steam train is not going to be very frequent either.

In contrast, an hourly or half hourly diesel shuttle (if that's possible) could (like the St. Ives one) attract people who don't want the hassle of driving through narrow streets trying to find a probably non-existent car parking space. They get to park easily, have the novelty of a train ride on a scenic line, and the fares aren't too expensive (unlike steam).

Of course, all this depends on an easily accessed large car park close to the origin station.....

Whether such a service would be profitable for the railway operator is of course another matter - but it would provide enormous transport, environmental, and economic benefits for the area.
 
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BayPaul

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Obviously I agree that a long loco-hauled train can convey more people per se than, say, a two-car 150 (although St. Ives branch trains are usually 4 cars, and they need to be because of the large amount of people they are taking off the roads).

However, a lot of people travelling on that seven coach steam train from the Paignton direction will be travelling purely for the pleasure of the journey: although a lot will then jump on the ferry over to Dartmouth, some will stay in Kingswear and perhaps have lunch or a beer in its two pubs, some may even return straight away on the same train back to Paignton. The latter two groups wouldn't have driven to Dartmouth anyway. A steam train is not going to be very frequent either.

In contrast, an hourly or half hourly diesel shuttle (if that's possible) could (like the St. Ives one) attract people who don't want the hassle of driving through narrow streets trying to find a probably non-existent car parking space. They get to park easily, have the novelty of a train ride on a scenic line, and the fares aren't too expensive (unlike steam).

Of course, all this depends on an easily accessed large car park close to the origin station.....
The steam train runs every 45 minutes on peak days. It might just be possible with a DMU to increase frequency to half hourly, though it would mean a tight turnaround time at Kingswear to be able to run Churston - Kingswear - Churston in 30 minutes - unlike St Ives the branch does need some breathing space, as it needs to interact with the mainline for through running to Exmouth. Even if that were possible it is still fewer coaches per hour.
From my experience, most people jump on the ferry to Dartmouth, and around 30% probably do the round robin. Dartmouth is a very obvious day out whilst staying in Torbay, but if the steam train wasn't there I think that most people would drive. The hassle of parking in Dartmouth (which does have a P+R) would probably be perceived as no worse than the combined hassle of parking in Paignton, catching the train, and probably needing to get a separate ticket for the ferry.

There is also the marketing side. Every hotel, service station, Tourist info, pub etc has stacks of brochures for the steam railway, and they have kiosks all over Torquay. There are Great Scenic Railways brochures around, but they cover all of the Devon and Cornwall lines, and so don't do such a good job of marketing any of them. A steam railway is seen as something to do on holiday, I think most people wouldn't think of a NR train in the same light, so wouldn't go and investigate
 

Worf

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Llanberis Lake Railway regularly makes a good profit. All paid staff also.
 

paul1609

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The steam train runs every 45 minutes on peak days. It might just be possible with a DMU to increase frequency to half hourly, though it would mean a tight turnaround time at Kingswear to be able to run Churston - Kingswear - Churston in 30 minutes - unlike St Ives the branch does need some breathing space, as it needs to interact with the mainline for through running to Exmouth. Even if that were possible it is still fewer coaches per hour.
From my experience, most people jump on the ferry to Dartmouth, and around 30% probably do the round robin. Dartmouth is a very obvious day out whilst staying in Torbay, but if the steam train wasn't there I think that most people would drive. The hassle of parking in Dartmouth (which does have a P+R) would probably be perceived as no worse than the combined hassle of parking in Paignton, catching the train, and probably needing to get a separate ticket for the ferry.

There is also the marketing side. Every hotel, service station, Tourist info, pub etc has stacks of brochures for the steam railway, and they have kiosks all over Torquay. There are Great Scenic Railways brochures around, but they cover all of the Devon and Cornwall lines, and so don't do such a good job of marketing any of them. A steam railway is seen as something to do on holiday, I think most people wouldn't think of a NR train in the same light, so wouldn't go and investigate
Don't know if its reached the south west yet but the effectiveness of brochures and leaflets as a marketing aid is greatly reduced it affects less than 15% of purchases at my railway. Here in the southeast we have a new fangled invention called the internet which is a bit like little tv sets that people carry around with them and look at when they are researching what to do on days out. ;)
 

BayPaul

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Don't know if its reached the south west yet but the effectiveness of brochures and leaflets as a marketing aid is greatly reduced it affects less than 15% of purchases at my railway. Here in the southeast we have a new fangled invention called the internet which is a bit like little tv sets that people carry around with them and look at when they are researching what to do on days out. ;)
We've heard of the interweb thingy down here, but don't have much truck with it....

I think it is a bit different in the SW, as most people using the steam railways are on holiday, rather than day trippers, so it is more likely to influence, as people are likely to grab a handful of brochures on day 1. It is also noticeable that Dartmouth Steam Railway posters are on a high percentage of roadside advertising, so physical advertising is very relevant.

I think even if most advertising hit is online, my point is still relevant - Dartmouth Steam Railway's website and online advertising is specially designed to attract tourists on day trips. GWR's is not, and quite rightly so. The current advertising set up is much more likely to attract more passengers than a national rail scenario.
 

RuralRambler

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Lakeside & Haverthwaite is also a privately owned business that makes a profit according to their accounts filed at Companies House. That's definitely run primarily for tourists, especially given the tie-in with the Lake Windemere boats and they've a good trade in the UK coach tour market (coach passengers do a single trip on the train and a single trip on the lake, meanwhile the coach travels to pick them up at the other end). They do very little, if anything, for enthusiasts.
 

alf

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The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway receives no public grants & has a large paid staff, so it must have been in profit up to Covid.

There are a surprisingly large number of profitable UK railways revealed by the 27 postings here so far.
 

paul1609

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The Romney Hythe & Dymchurch railway receives no public grants & has a large paid staff, so it must have been in profit up to Covid.

There are a surprisingly large number of profitable UK railways revealed by the 27 postings here so far.
The RHDR Railway PLC returned profits of £31K AND £48K on turnover of £2.6 million in 2019 and 2018 so its effectively being run as a not for profit concern.
 
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