August railtours beset by problems

Published: 10:36AM Sep 15th, 2011
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Charter train participants and promoters suffer disappointment as several tours fail to run for several reasons.

August railtours beset by problems

STOP NAGGING: The Northern Belle continues its perambulations, giving ‘resident’ No. 47790 Galloway Princess plenty of mileage, supported by another of DRS’ stablemates. On August 17, the ‘Belle’ was on a 1Z16 08.13 Chester-York ‘Nag-Ex’ outing for racegoers at the Yorkshire capital. Powered by No. 47712 Pride of Carlisle, with the harmonised No. 47790 on the rear, the charter passes Horbury Junction, just west of Wakefield. The lines to the left lead to Barnsley. Dominating the skyline is the Grade-II listed Emley Moor television transmitter, which stands at a height of 330.4 metres (1084ft). Mark Allatt

ON paper, the month of August looked set to be a busy one for regular railtourers, with a number of attractive tours advertised using a wide array of traction.

Unfortunately though, for a variety of different reasons, several of these failed to run, causing frustration and disappointment for many people.

The first train to ‘fall off’ the calendar was Pathfinder’s ‘York & Pennines Explorer’ which was cancelled, I understand, due to poor loadings on the main tour to York (although the mini tour featuring Michael Owen’s Class 20s had healthy bookings). It was quite surprising that a visit to York on a Saturday in the summer did not seem to appeal to enough members of the public to make the train’s operation worthwhile.

A few people who had booked to travel on the Class 20s would have no doubt amended their plans for that day to travel on Spitfire’s ‘Edinburgh Explorer II’, which was booked to be hauled by 50044 Exeter and 50049 Defiance. However, on July 26, it was announced that both this tour and Spitfire’s other trip in August, taking ‘Deltic’ 55022 Royal Scots Grey from Crewe to Fort William and back, had been postponed as the TOC, West Coast Railways, did not have coaching stock available for the tours.

While it must be acknowledged that WCRC was at the height of its operating season, as mentioned in the Coach Corridor column in RE 184, those hiring trains should expect these resources to be in place to enable the tour to run as planned. One wonders if perhaps West Coast Railways overstretched itself this year?

Although both tours were re-dated, a number of people who had previously booked on the Fort William trip had to cancel as they were unable to make the new date (September 14) due to other commitments. Two Compass Tours specials, also operated by WCRC, were also re-dated – its fully booked ‘Western Cathedrals Express’ on August 14, was given a new date of October 5, and the August 19, ‘Lakes & Northumbrian Explorer’ was postponed to September 21.

Another train that did not run – at much shorter notice – was Rail Blue Charters’ ‘Mark Honey Memorial’ tour on August 6. Three days before the day of running, Cargo-D’s Mk. 1 RK No. 80042 was found to have a defective axle, which meant it could not be used on the train. With the train containing four coaches of dining passengers (too many to serve from a Mk. 3a RFM) and Cargo-D’s Mk. 1 RBR No.

1657 having yet to be prepared for service at Eastleigh, the decision to postpone the tour rather than operate with limited catering was taken on August 4.

This was obviously a difficult choice for the Rail Blue/Cargo-D team, which was running this train in memory of a late colleague who passed away at the end of last year. Profits were to have been donated to the Sarcoma Trust and Macmillan Cancer Support. Many of Mark’s friends and relatives were booked on the tour, and they too would have been most disappointed. A new date for the tour had not been announced as of August 21, but in a letter to those who had booked on the train, Ingrid Sluis, Cargo-D’s marketing director, wrote ‘The successful running of this train is very personal to all of us involved in the organisation and we will make sure that it happens’.

Make the most of it

One of the side effects of tour cancellations and postponements is that many people have already pre-booked non-cancellable train tickets and accommodation – this means that if a tour does not run or the date is changed, in many cases, will have already incurred expenditure which they cannot recoup. Others may have arranged time off work or changed shifts in order to do the tour. Unfortunately, there is always a risk involved in booking non-cancellable tickets in connection with charters, and if a train is subsequently re-dated or cancelled, then the only options are to either write off the trip (and monies paid), or go anyway, and make the most of what else is available in the area.

This is exactly what one of my travelling colleagues and I did at the beginning of August, having previously arranged accommodation in Watford for two nights in order to travel on the ‘Mark Honey Memorial’ train with 86101 Sir William A Stanier FRS and 87002 Royal Sovereign. Rather conveniently, the Spa Valley Railway – less than 50 miles away – was holding its diesel gala the same weekend, so we took the opportunity to attend the event which featured 33063, 37254 and E6047 in action.

The rescheduling of various tours in August will have left many feeling disappointed and frustrated. Some people will not be happy to continue making hotel and ticket bookings if there is a high likelihood of the train not running, and others will simply lose confidence. It is to be hoped, for the benefit of all tour participants, promoters, loco/rolling stock providers and Train Operating Companies, that the events in August were a ‘one off’ and in future more trips will run as planned.

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