Charter Trains to be Regulated off the national network in 2014?

Published 7th January

Christmas Branch Line Society & Bluebell Railway Charter dates plus a ‘new’ Deltic for Main Line use

The Office of Rail Regulation (ORR) has issued a Consultation document about freight and charter trains’ performance and how they affect franchise train operators. The Consultation runs until January 28 and if the ORR is not convinced by the arguments made to them and implements its proposals, the amount of charter trains could be dramatically reduced to a handful rather than the couple of thousand a year as now.

The charter train business is a marginal activity on the fringes of the main rail activity but attracts much publicity and political interest as it is an unsubsidised part of the railway. The downside of this is that the two main charter train operators, West Coast Railways and DB Schenker could be up for £500,000 of performance costs annually from 2014 if ORR gets its way. Direct Rail Services (DRS) are expanding their charter activities but they are taking a long hard look at these proposals and may drop expansion plans.

Massive Penalties or a drop in the debt ocean?

At the moment, if a charter train delays other services, its maximum liability is £5000 and the hundred fold increase is too much financial risk for the three companies. If a train delays others and the penalty is more than £5000, then Network Rail (NR) picks up the bill and the ORR reckons it has cost around £3000 a week in the last 40 months. Given that NR owes over £28bn then £3000 a week does not even become a rounding error on the interest payable!

This Consultation is part of the five year financial settlement negotiations underway at the moment to determine the level of funding for the railways between NR, ORR and the Government for five years from April 2014.

How do the penalties stack up?

Suppose a charter train fails across a junction at Peterborough for example, and remains stationary for an hour, it could delays services between Kings Cross, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness on the East Coast main line. It could also delay trains between Stansted Airport, Norwich, Birmingham and Liverpool which all serve Peterborough. It therefore becomes easy to see how a failed train could delay 20 other services creating thousands of minutes total delay between them. As these can be charged out at over £100 a minute, the £5000 cap is quickly reached and NR has to pay the penalties to the other companies over and above the £5000.

An argumentative army?

These delays are managed by staff from each of the 30 or so train and freight operating companies who ‘argue’ over whose fault the delays were with NR staff. Despite many attempts at finding out how many people are employed working out the compensation details the exact numbers remain confidential but could run into hundreds across the industry costing millions of pounds annually.

The payments were designed to cover refunds to passengers and the cost of taxis or coaches but the reality is that only the very worst incidents trigger the use of road transport as services resume before alternatives can be arranged. Most passengers do not get a refund because of the form filling involved and those that do, often get vouchers rather than cash so the train company retains the cash apart from in the case of season ticket holders following up claims.

Insurance Argument

ORR thinks that insurance could be the answer to the delay problem. If this is so, insurers will want to get involved in the arguments about who was at fault and may decide that management of an incident was not good and declare the delays void from any claim.

The societal economic argument is ignored in the consultation. Many towns and a few cities such as Mallaig, Fort William, York, Carlisle, Weymouth, Scarborough and Llandudno enjoy the local economic boost charter trains bring. Without charters the local tourist economy with suffer with the resulting negative impact.

York and Carlisle for example each benefits from around 100 charters annually bringing in over a million pounds of tourist spend in each town. Mallaig was a small fishing village in decline 25 years ago before the ‘Jacobite’ daily services commenced. They now bring 500 people a day from Fort William in the summer months creating a mini-economic boom there.

History lesson

Historically Railtrack tried to bring in a charging system linked to traffic density and performance. It proved too difficult to create a workable business model and was scrapped. The charter market is financially delicate and this was reflected in the £5000 performance cap 15 years ago and why the Railtrack plan was dropped.

Nobody knows how many people work in the business but it could be around 700 including back roof staff and caterers. Remember how labour intensive the Orient Express, Northern Belle and the Royal Scotsman are and how much tourism income they generate between them!

Some think that the penalty system could cost more to run than the financial benefit gained by NR and one wonders if ORR which carries out excellent Regulation has considered this aspect.

First Charter Train to the Bluebell Railway

The first charter train to run onto the Bluebell Railway will run on March 28 from London Victoria at 09.40, running via Crystal Palace, East Croydon, and East Grinstead direct to Sheffield Park. UK Railtours is promoting the train which sold out in just six hours!

There will be a naming ceremony at Horsted Keynes where just after mid-day the GBRf Class 66 locomotive hauling the train will be named, marking the superb contribution made by that company in transporting the huge amount of household refuse away from the cutting between Imberhorn Viaduct and Kingscote.

Deltic KOYLI returns to mainline service

Ex British Rail Class 55 ‘Deltic No. 55002 King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry has been registered for mainline use by its owners, the National Railway Museum (NRM) and is now available for hire and private charters.

The engine has been at the NRM for 30 years spent almost 20 years on the East Coast main line from 1961 and replaced steam traction on express services significantly reducing journey times from London to Edinburgh.

The volunteer ‘KOYLI Group’ spent almost four years restoring the locomotive which was used on many farewell to Deltic tours in 1981 and also appeared at the ‘Farewell to the Deltics’ event at Doncaster on 27th February 1982.

Christmas Branch Line Society Depot Tracker Railtour announced

The Branch Line Society is running a trip in the quiet period between Christmas and the New Year on December 29. It gives a rare chance to take the train into several depots and sample haulage by a 50 year old class 08 350hp shunter No. 08899.

Derby Etches Park and Nottingham Eastcroft Depots are to be visited on the train which starts at Crewe at around 9am and it is hoped that Ramsline Halt will also be visited on the day. The service also calls at Stoke and takes in many freight loops in the day. Depending upon train crew availability the train, two class 156 units, may cover the Lenton West to North curve before going through Nottingham.

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