Preserved Heritage Railways Need to Raise Their Game

Published 29th February 2012

Derailments and Other Operational Irregularities

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) is unhappy with the number of incidents occurring on heritage lines and associated the standards.

Some heritage railway organisations are now being monitored as part of an improvement process. Those responsible for Britain’s heritage railways, paid staff and volunteers, anticipate being told in no uncertain terms at specially organised forthcoming events that they need to improve the way their lines are run.

Special Seminars

This message will be conveyed to representatives with executive responsibility for direction and management of heritage railways and tramways regulated by HMRI during two special seminars organised by The Heritage Railway Association (HRA) and ORR. The first is in the Midlands on March 20, the second in Glasgow on April 24. While attendance is not compulsory, it has been made clear to chairmen, general managers, directors and anyone else ‘where the buck stops’ that if their railway is not represented at one of the events such absence will be noted!

The seminars will comprise a number of presentations, notably including Obligations and Responsibilities, Legal Framework and Safety Management. There will also be presentations exploring ‘What happens when it all goes wrong’ and a professional journalist (who has extensive experience as a heritage railway director) will deal with how to handle the media fallout. HRA and HMRI will also be advising on the resources available to assist heritage lines.

Incidents and Injuries

The list of incidents in recent times has lengthened rapidly and included stock runaways (North Yorkshire Moors and Pontypool & Blaenavon Railways), derailment of passenger carriages (Bure Valley Railway), a dropped boiler fusible plug (Kirklees Light Railway) and collision between train and car (Wensleydale Railway).

In addition, volunteer staff have been injured at the Foxfield Railway and Telford Steam Railway. Some years ago, even one of the licensed Thomas The Tank Engines was withdrawn by the Safety Authorities!

In several of these cases, investigations following the incident resulted in issues concerning record keeping and safety management documentation being uncovered. Following the injury incidents at the Foxfield and Telford lines, railway operations were suspended for a period. The Telford SR was closed last July after its chairman’s legs were crushed in an accident during track laying and the line missed the whole of the summer season and Christmas operations. The railway will reopen on April 8-9.

Improvement Notices Issued Last Year

The early February publication of the list of Improvement Notices issued by the Office of the Rail Regulator last year hammers home why ORR is so concerned. Most of the entries relate to the national network as one would expect, but the number of heritage lines which also appear in the list is surprisingly high. Notices were issued to the Ribble Steam Railway (November 2011), Tanfield Railway (October 2011), Wensleydale Railway (July 2011), Bure Valley Railway (June 2011), Strathspey Railway (June 2011) and Shackerstone Railway (February 2011). Some relate to incidents mentioned above, while all issued notices were complied with prior to publication of the list.


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