Severn Valley Railway to suspend photographic charters

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geoffk

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We’ve had two recent threads on the subject of lineside passes being discontinued. Now the SVR has gone one step further and also imposed a ban on future privately-run photographic charters. In an interview General Manager Helen Smith said “the income we receive from lineside passes and privately-run photo charters is insignificant when compared to the potential risk these activities naturally contain.” She goes on to say “only a handful of heritage railways currently do so (i.e. allow these ‘high-risk activities’ to continue), and I expect that soon there will be none.” The interview was reported in the April 15th issue of "Heritage Railway" magazine.

Helen Smith alleges that railway photography is “high risk” without quoting any recent photography-related incidents. She does mention two falls from height, neither of which involved a photographer. The use of a trained lookout accompanying photo charters would surely be a remedy and, if the cost of the charter goes up as a result, this is unlikely to be a cause for complaint.
 
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43096

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We’ve had two recent threads on the subject of lineside passes being discontinued. Now the SVR has gone one step further and also imposed a ban on future privately-run photographic charters. In an interview General Manager Helen Smith said “the income we receive from lineside passes and privately-run photo charters is insignificant when compared to the potential risk these activities naturally contain.” She goes on to say “only a handful of heritage railways currently do so (i.e. allow these ‘high-risk activities’ to continue), and I expect that soon there will be none.”

Helen Smith alleges that railway photography is “high risk” without quoting any recent photography-related incidents. She does mention two falls from height, neither of which involved a photographer. The use of a trained lookout accompanying photo charters would surely be a remedy and, if the cost of the charter goes up as a result, this is unlikely to be a cause for complaint.
Helen Smith is correct - the legal framework around heritage railways is tightening rapidly, with the ORR scrutinising them far more. Having people on the lineside taking photos, or running photo charters with lineside access is a high risk activity.

You don't wait for there to be an incident before doing something about it - you try writing a risk assessment and method statement for such activities!
 

Merle Haggard

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Reading the Winter SVR News suggests that the railway may be moving in a new direction - there's a new chair. There's some interesting statements, for instance "As we seek new markets, the focus may change to high-value adding solutions, such as dining trains" which, amongst other implications, suggests that the writer has fully absorbed 1990s marketing-speak. Curiously in view of the O.P., it continues "the mix between charters and regular service may also change" which implies to me an increase in the former. It continues with the view that the people are less interested in what's on the front of the train than a couple of decades ago, which infers greater use of diesels. I also detected an inference that the steam enthusiast represented such a small part of the market that they no longer needed be catered for, and they would just have to get used to it - they don't need them (us).

Of course, those aging steam enthusiasts donated the money to buy the line and the locos and rolling stock in the first place, but that's quietly forgotten.

The journey to Theme Park continues...
 

Iskra

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Reading the Winter SVR News suggests that the railway may be moving in a new direction - there's a new chair. There's some interesting statements, for instance "As we seek new markets, the focus may change to high-value adding solutions, such as dining trains" which, amongst other implications, suggests that the writer has fully absorbed 1990s marketing-speak. Curiously in view of the O.P., it continues "the mix between charters and regular service may also change" which implies to me an increase in the former. It continues with the view that the people are less interested in what's on the front of the train than a couple of decades ago, which infers greater use of diesels. I also detected an inference that the steam enthusiast represented such a small part of the market that they no longer needed be catered for, and they would just have to get used to it - they don't need them (us).

Of course, those aging steam enthusiasts donated the money to buy the line and the locos and rolling stock in the first place, but that's quietly forgotten.

The journey to Theme Park continues...
If you watch any of the NYMR documentaries, it’s almost a given amongst that organisation that they understand that the vast majority of punters want steam traction. So I wouldn’t worry too much about diesels becoming the norm.

These railways are ultimately a business, however and therefore they need to cater most to where the money is in order to survive and prosper.
 

43096

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Reading the Winter SVR News suggests that the railway may be moving in a new direction - there's a new chair. There's some interesting statements, for instance "As we seek new markets, the focus may change to high-value adding solutions, such as dining trains" which, amongst other implications, suggests that the writer has fully absorbed 1990s marketing-speak. Curiously in view of the O.P., it continues "the mix between charters and regular service may also change" which implies to me an increase in the former. It continues with the view that the people are less interested in what's on the front of the train than a couple of decades ago, which infers greater use of diesels. I also detected an inference that the steam enthusiast represented such a small part of the market that they no longer needed be catered for, and they would just have to get used to it - they don't need them (us).

Of course, those aging steam enthusiasts donated the money to buy the line and the locos and rolling stock in the first place, but that's quietly forgotten.

The journey to Theme Park continues...
I'm not seeing how that is a "journey to Theme Park". It's a simple fact that dining trains are more profitable - just look at how many main line charters now include dining. It wouldn't be done if there wasn't a market for it. Or is it the diesels that make it a "theme park"?

Those aging steam enthusiasts are an ever decreasing number...
 

Bevan Price

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Reading the Winter SVR News suggests that the railway may be moving in a new direction - there's a new chair. There's some interesting statements, for instance "As we seek new markets, the focus may change to high-value adding solutions, such as dining trains" which, amongst other implications, suggests that the writer has fully absorbed 1990s marketing-speak. Curiously in view of the O.P., it continues "the mix between charters and regular service may also change" which implies to me an increase in the former. It continues with the view that the people are less interested in what's on the front of the train than a couple of decades ago, which infers greater use of diesels. I also detected an inference that the steam enthusiast represented such a small part of the market that they no longer needed be catered for, and they would just have to get used to it - they don't need them (us).

Of course, those aging steam enthusiasts donated the money to buy the line and the locos and rolling stock in the first place, but that's quietly forgotten.

The journey to Theme Park continues...
There will always be an affluent minority willing to pay for expensive meals whilst travelling on scenic railways, and not caring about the type of traction. However, for the majority, including non-enthusiasts, it is "steam" that attracts them to heritage railways, because it gives the opportunity to see something that they never see at their "local" (NR) station / railway. Failure to cater for that is a potential "road to ruin" for heritage railways.

(No disrespect to diesel enthusiasts, but they are likely to remain in the minority compared with public interest in steam.)
 

37424

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Given that Mainline charters are increasingly going down the dining route I would think a heritage operation needs to be cautious about going to far down that route. Of course if lineside permits are going and if also we end up being as strict about looking out of the window as the mainline situation now, as an enthusiast I have to ask my self is the hobby of interest to me anymore?
 

packermac

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Given that Mainline charters are increasingly going down the dining route I would think a heritage operation needs to be cautious about going to far down that route. Of course if lineside permits are going and if also we end up being as strict about looking out of the window as the mainline situation now, as an enthusiast I have to ask my self is the hobby of interest to me anymore?
I hope you actually mean looking through the window, as you are no longer allowed your head out of the window on a mainline trip.
 

37424

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I hope you actually mean looking through the window, as you are no longer allowed your head out of the window on a mainline trip.
That was my point which if it ends up being applied to heritage railways which we have already discussed at length, but its another nail in the coffin for me I no longer travel on charters for that reason and of course virtually all service trains are now power door anyway.

On the general point I appreciate from a heritage railway there are 2 issues the increasingly risk averse protect us from ourselves health and safety culture, and certainly a dwindling number of older enthusiasts to both support and run the railway.
 
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Taunton

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It's notable that where there is a significant revenue opportunity, from a film/TV company using the heritage railway as a set, their own personnel, commonly with far less lineside awareness than enthusiasts and zero hi-viz, are seemingly welcome to be swarming all over the place among trains being run past and backed up for multiple takes.
 

paul1609

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It's notable that where there is a significant revenue opportunity, from a film/TV company using the heritage railway as a set, their own personnel, commonly with far less lineside awareness than enthusiasts and zero hi-viz, are seemingly welcome to be swarming all over the place among trains being run past and backed up for multiple takes.
That's certainly not the case on any of the filming specials Ive been on.
 

Ianno87

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It's notable that where there is a significant revenue opportunity, from a film/TV company using the heritage railway as a set, their own personnel, commonly with far less lineside awareness than enthusiasts and zero hi-viz, are seemingly welcome to be swarming all over the place among trains being run past and backed up for multiple takes.

Watching some recent scenes in Holby City filmed at the Barry Island Railway looked to have been very carefully filmed.
 

Merle Haggard

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I'm not seeing how that is a "journey to Theme Park". It's a simple fact that dining trains are more profitable - just look at how many main line charters now include dining. It wouldn't be done if there wasn't a market for it. Or is it the diesels that make it a "theme park"?

Those aging steam enthusiasts are an ever decreasing number...

There are some steam railways that successfully create an impression of what it was like to travel by train years ago, in the age of steam with careful attention to restoring the rolling stock and infrastructure to its appearance many years ago. An example is the Bluebell which always seems to have plenty of passengers.

Providing dining trains doesn't recreate rail travel in past times - there were never trains run with the sole purpose of providing meals served at every seat and depositing the diners back at their starting point. It's just a commercial operation, hospitality not history, like the Wild West railroad at a theme park. Heritage railways are usually constituted as a charity, on the basis they are re-creating history. Other commercial entertainment venues (which seems to be the aim in this case) do not have this financial advantage which, by considerably reducing tax liabilities, includes subsidy by the general tax-payer (if they don't pay tax, others have to pay more to meet the shortfall).

Moving away from providing a re-creation of lost times is the start of a slippery slope in my opinion. Dining trains are profitable, but why stop there? All you need for dining trains is a single track with a station at one end and a run-round at the other. That would leave surplus land at the site of each intermediate station - no need for platforms or sidings - and sell off the land for redevelopment. That would also be profitable - but stupid. Where do you draw the line?

If they no longer wish to cater for aging steam enthusiasts can we have our money back please? Donating £240 to buy a coach doesn't seem a lot of money now, but in 1968 it was a tidy sum; wonder what the interest would work out at - and it's still in service. There's only a few of us left, and, as they're so profitable, a few dining trains would sort it...
 

The Lad

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I don't know what inflation would have done, but a mk 1 in good order (especially if main line registered) can be upwards of £10k.
 

43096

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If they no longer wish to cater for aging steam enthusiasts can we have our money back please? Donating £240 to buy a coach doesn't seem a lot of money now, but in 1968 it was a tidy sum; wonder what the interest would work out at - and it's still in service. There's only a few of us left, and, as they're so profitable, a few dining trains would sort it...
So you made a donation half a century ago and now have a strop because the railway is changing to meet the current market. I think a sense of perspective is needed.
 

Wilts Wanderer

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The Severn Valley Railway is one of the most comprehensively ‘preserved’ railways in the UK. It’s also one of the most professionally organised and run (and that’s no criticism of other lines.) There has always been a strong commercial arm to the business. I don’t think this is anything to be worried about - there is zero chance of a change to a ‘theme park’ - the underlying ethos of the SVR as a heritage railway is too deeply ingrained in its culture. It’s healthy to move with the times - an increase in dining trains and perhaps a reduction in normal timetabled service days will be no more shocking than the advent of all those Thomas weekends and faces on the engines!

What I think will be a growing problem will be the reliable supply of good quality coal, so that could easily result in steam haulage becoming less regular as it will greatly increase the cost of lighting an engine up for a turn. Booking steam onto charters is a means to protect its future. A lightly loaded off-season midweek service might not pay its way steam-wise, but then for instance it’s an opportunity for more DMU running dates, which is still pretty authentic?
 

LSWR Cavalier

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Are charter trains accompanied by photographers hurrying by car from one spot up a narrow lane to another, trying to get the best views?
 

Bald Rick

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Donating £240 to buy a coach doesn't seem a lot of money now, but in 1968 it was a tidy sum; wonder what the interest would work out at -

Using the Retail Price Index, £240 in 1968 is about £4200 now.

You could ask for your money back, of course.
 

etr221

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Are charter trains accompanied by photographers hurrying by car from one spot up a narrow lane to another, trying to get the best views?
No. Normally we (photographers) are riding on the train, alighting for photo oppotunities. Where everything will be managed so everyone can get a good shot; and movement of photographers and train coordinated for safety - apart from the organiser there will be a railway 'responsible officer' keeping an eye on us. On other railways (i.e. not SVR) we can't always ride on the train, and move from spot to spot by car, but again things are managed to give everybody time.

While there are risks, and we need to and do take care, I wouldn't judge them significantly greater than other activities (on or off the railway - e.g. on the drive to the line). Most of us are regulars, and used to railways - biggest problem can be when you have 'ordinary' photographers who aren't used to railways, and don't have the same hazard consciousness.

As I always put it, the objective isn't to get the shots today, it's to enjoy them tomorrow...
 

DustyBin

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goodness me there is some wibble here!

@43096 has it right imo. You don't wait for an incident before acting.

I agree with this as long as there is an actual risk. I’ve never been on a photographic charter so this is a genuine question; are these things an accident waiting to happen? If this is based on a “what if” mentality then what will come next? Central door locking perhaps? If these charters have a history of near misses or of people simply not following the rules then fair enough, but there is a danger of taking the enjoyment out of the hobby in the name of H&S.
 

Titfield

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AFAIK there have been some safety related issues in respect of lineside photography. It would appear (and I am speculating) that as a risk has been identified, SVR have undertaken a risk assessment (including a review of mitigating actions) and have concluded that the reward (financial and reputational) is outweighed by the risks and their possible consequences (financial and reputational).

One only has to watch tv and see adverts on the internet to see the massive growth in legal firms offering to take up cases to sue for compensation. It should also be noted that it might not be the "rail enthusiast" suing for compensation but his widow or next of kin. They may not have the same benevolent / understanding approach to heritage railways.

When one also considers incidents of trespass and sadly accidents on the national network, one can perhaps see why an organisation may simply decide that the safer approach is to remove as many activities as possible which take place in (usually) non publicly accessible areas. In that context removing photography from the lineside is a "win".

Perhaps one also has to ask whether the ORR and HRI have confidence that HRs can manage the breadth of activities they undertake safely, given incidents on the South Devon, WSR and others in recent years. I would venture to suggest that given their declared intention to have a far greater overview of HRs they have decided that HRs must improve their standards and take action now before there is a tragedy. In that context one can see why the SVR have acted in the way they have.
 

DarloRich

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I agree with this as long as there is an actual risk. I’ve never been on a photographic charter so this is a genuine question; are these things an accident waiting to happen? If this is based on a “what if” mentality then what will come next? Central door locking perhaps? If these charters have a history of near misses or of people simply not following the rules then fair enough, but there is a danger of taking the enjoyment out of the hobby in the name of H&S.
It is clearly reward v risk. The SVR don't earn enough from these events to make any mitigation worth the money.

BTW trainspotting isn't immune for complying with the law. If that is "taking the enjoyment out of the hobby" then so be it. Better there is a hobby. The ORR are looking, rightly, very closely at heritage railways. The days of playing trains is long gone and rightly so.
 

DustyBin

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It is clearly reward v risk. The SVR don't earn enough from these events to make any mitigation worth the money.

BTW trainspotting isn't immune for complying with the law. If that is "taking the enjoyment out of the hobby" then so be it. Better there is a hobby. The ORR are looking, rightly, very closely at heritage railways. The days of playing trains is long gone and rightly so.

Understood and I realise trainspotting isn't exempt from the law. All I would say is that a hobby is, by definition, supposed to be enjoyable so if you take the enjoyment out of it you do in fact threaten it's existence. I'm not saying we're quite at that point but I think it's important not to loose site of what motivates many people to visit or volunteer at a heritage railway.
 

DarloRich

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Understood and I realise trainspotting isn't exempt from the law. All I would say is that a hobby is, by definition, supposed to be enjoyable so if you take the enjoyment out of it you do in fact threaten it's existence. I'm not saying we're quite at that point but I think it's important not to loose site of what motivates many people to visit or volunteer at a heritage railway.

Is the question what motivates people to visit heritage railways or what motivates enthusiasts to visit heritage railways? They aren't the same thing nor do they bring in the same amount of money.
 

zwk500

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Is the question what motivates people to visit heritage railways or what motivates enthusiasts to visit heritage railways? They aren't the same thing nor do they bring in the same amount of money.
Although the question of what motivates people/enthusiasts to volunteer at a heritage railway is very important because the overwhelming majority of heritage railways would not survive if they required a much higher proportion of salaried staff.

EDIT: Don't get me wrong, if the risk is too high you don't run the trains.
 
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