Published: 17th February 2016
...as its back to the future for Hertfordshire Railtours
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has taken an unprecedented decision in issuing a Prohibition Notice to West Coast Railway Company Ltd (WCRC) with immediate effect. This means the company will not be able to operate any trains until further notice when it can satisfy ORR that it has new systems and processes in place.
The company operates about 95% of all steam trains and 75% of all non-steam trains on the national network which means that some charter train promoters will be facing an uncertain future. Only a few such companies will not be affected by this ORR decision and these are Belmond, UK Railtours and Pathfinders. Affected promoters may well switch to other train companies for their operation enabling them to operate as normal. If you have booked, call your promoter.
There have been several safety-related incidents in the last year which have brought on the decision as a result of which, ORR launched a review of WCRC’s safety certification in December 2015. In March 2015, a steam service passed a red signal at Wootton Bassett junction in Wiltshire narrowly avoiding collision with an express train setting off worries.
As a result, ORR issued an Improvement Notice to WCRC to strengthen its approach to safety management which has now led to the Prohibition Notice.
Ian Prosser, HM Chief Inspector of Railways at ORR said:
"A decision to stop a train operator from running rail services is not taken lightly. However, my concerns about West Coast Railway Company’s lack of appreciation of the seriousness of a collective range of incidents over the last year, coupled with ORR’s concerns on the company’s governance, regrettably make this prohibition necessary. These failings create a significant risk to operations on the mainline network.
"We want to encourage successful business operations on our railways and hope WCRC will be able to put in place steps to ensure fit and proper safety management with a view to resuming operations. Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety. Our inspectors stand ready to work with the company to support and advise as it strengthens its approach to safety.”
Belmond until now has mainly operated its Northern Belle across the UK with some visiting London, but none commence from the metropolis. UK Railtours’ John Farrow has said that the Riviera Trains’ owned ‘Royal Scot’ carriages are now looking past their best so it is time to look elsewhere for up-market carriages.
The answer is the agreement between UKR and Belmond which enables the luxury train to operate from London on a monthly basis. UKR will continue to use the Belmond British Pullman from time to time on a limited number of special trips. The Northern Belle has just 276 seats (all first class) and has a top speed of 100mph so can cover a large daily mileage to far away destinations and these monthly trips commence in May.
UKR traded as Hertfordshire Railtours (HRT) from 1979 to 2005 when the ill-fated FM Rail took over and then went bankrupt. HRT chartered trains across the UK and this brand name will be re-introduced using franchised operators’ trains such as High Speed Trains, Silver trains, Javelins and some 50 year old Mark 1 carriages.
It is also hoped that 2016 will see the Brighton Belle train back in main line action which will add an altogether new dimension to rail travel. It has not operated for over 40 years.
The Branch Line Society (BLS) runs special enthusiast services in conjunction with franchised train operators and these trains visit routes that passenger trains do not normally cover. Their last train was operated by Merseyrail and raised over £11,000 for Charity and more are planned.
Their next train runs on 27 February and is called ‘The North Midlands Tracker and operated by East Midlands Trains (EMT) using 2-car Class 156. The train departs from Crewe at 0720am, Stoke, 0750am and Uttoxeter at 0820am. The train visits a pair of main line connected preservation centres, Barrow Hill Engine Roundhouse and Great Central Railway (Nottingham) as well as some very rare track. At the latter railway passengers will be offered a ride hauled by prototype HST Power Car 41001 and Class 56 No. 56097 in 'top and tail' mode.
After that, the next outing is on one of the Department for Transport hated trains, a Pacer! This runs from Manchester Piccadilly just after 9am to Huddersfield-Leeds on March 6 on a Class 142 and is called ‘The Northern Powerhouse Pacer’ operated by Northern Rail.
Pathfinders are promoting a trip to the Borders Line on April 9 using ‘Deltic’ No. 55009 on ‘The Deltic Borderer’ which runs from Derby and stations to York to Edinburgh and Tweedbank and return.