By Phil Marsh

Network Rail ban Flying Scotsman in Scotland claiming two years is not enough time to plan the trains

Published: 15th May 2016

Ministerial intervention saves the day but will Regulatory investigation follow political row?

The weekend news was dominated by Network Rail banning Flying Scotsman from operating two special trains from Edinburgh. Rail.co.uk gives you the whole story.

Network Rail (NR) has banned the world famous Flying Scotsman steam locomotive from operating over the Forth Bridge and on the newly opened Borders Line to Galashiels and Tweedbank.

The steam locomotive has been the subject of some controversy since it was taken into public ownership by the National Railway Museum (NRM) and its overhaul commenced in 2005 expected to take a couple of years. Eventually it took a decade and cost around £4.5 million returning to service in February this year. Its inaugural trip from Kings Cross to York was marred by trespass which brought the train to a halt near St Neots.

It spent the intervening period on display at its York NRM base and worked a Steam Dreams charter train to Newcastle and back on May 10. This was accompanied by many British Transport Police and their helicopter presumably to monitor lineside trespass.

But this in itself was curious as the TP has been quoted as saying that it was not their policy to prosecute trespassers despite them knowing who some were. And Network Rail also banned the locomotive from operating between Ely and Norwich and Kings Cross and Newark due to trespass worries.

The 30 mile long Borders Railway, running from Tweedbank to Edinburgh, was opened in September last year by HM The Queen travelling on a steam hauled Pullman train. The line is also thought to have been designed to be able to accommodate Flying Scotsman as it was hoped to use this engine to open the line, but its overhaul was delayed by several years.

Borders Bombshell

Steam Dreams has negotiated use of the engine on day trips and longer holiday excursions including a weekend in Edinburgh but on Friday 13th May, they were advised by NR that day two of their Scottish tour could not use Flying Scotsman . This was due to run two trips, Edinburgh to Tweedbank and on a ‘Fife Circular’ via the Forth Bridge bringing together two iconic British engineering feats.

The Steam Dreams letter to passengers reads as follows:

Friday 13 May 2016

Dear Passenger,

THE CATHEDRALS EXPRESS TO TWEEDBANK

At 16.40 this evening, Friday 13 May, our Train Operating Company, West Coast Railways, received a call from Network Rail Special Train Planning in Milton Keynes to say that they have been unable to gauge Flying Scotsman (i.e. to find out if it would fit within the structures of the railway network such as bridges and platforms) to go to Tweedbank because their system did not have the right data. This basic job only takes a few hours to complete and Network Rail had weeks of notice to carry this out. To say that we are disappointed and angry on your behalf is an understatement.

During the next 24 hours we will be doing our utmost to get this situation sorted out, but if we can’t then we very much regret that we will have to run this trip with vintage diesel locomotive. If this is the case than we will do our utmost to make it a highly memorable day on a vintage train.

The scheduled Flying Scotsman journeys between York and Edinburgh are unaffected and will run with Flying Scotsman.

In line with our normal Terms and Conditions, you will have a choice of a rebate* of £10 per person if travelling in Premium Standard, £15 in First Class, £20 in Premier Dining and £25 in Pullman Style Dining, or alternatively a credit for a future trip of £20 per person in Premium Standard, £30 in First Class, £40 in Premier Dining and £50 in Pullman Style Dining. Our team will come and ask you about which option you would prefer. Should you choose the credit for a future trip, this will be valid for 1 year and you may use it in conjunction with the usual on train booking discount of 10%.

In addition to the above, we will be looking to Network Rail to add to this compensation. This situation is entirely unacceptable, and a huge blow to passengers in Scotland, our team here at Steam Dreams who have spent the last 2 years planning this trip, Ian Riley’s team who have done such a great job in rebuilding the locomotive and for the Scottish Borders Council who have organised events in the borders to make Flying Scotsman’s return a memorable occasion for everyone.

Whether we run with steam or diesel, the departure time remains the same, but we will update our on-train mobile phone if we have any further news while we’re on our journey to Edinburgh tomorrow.

We can only apologise again for what we believe to be an absolute disgrace and an insult to all steam lovers in Scotland. We look forward to welcoming you on board and will be happy to answer any questions you have.

*Passengers who have paid for their tickets in whole or in part via a third party voucher company may only opt for the discount off a future trip. The credit cannot be applied retrospectively on bookings already made. If you do not travel, you will automatically be given a discount to use on a future trip.

Yours sincerely

Marcus Robertson

Chairman, Steam Dreams

What Network Rail said:

Network Rail has today (Friday, May 13) confirmed that Flying Scotsman will no longer be able to undertake this weekend’s tours of the Borders and Fife saying “The routes the Scotsman had planned to cover this weekend are new ones for the locomotive and have to be individually assessed by our engineers in advance.

"Unfortunately we have been unable to carry out the work in time and cannot allow the engine to run when we are unsure if the unique design of the Flying Scotsman is compatible with the current railway infrastructure across the Fife and Borders routes.

“We understand the disappointment this will cause all those who had been looking forward to the iconic engine returning to these parts of Scotland and a full investigation will be undertaken into why these issues were not identified sooner."

A spokeswoman for the National Railway Museum, the engine's owners, said: "We are sorry to hear that our locomotive Flying Scotsman will be unable to haul the 15 May Steam Dreams The Borders Scotsman and Fife Evening Circular tours, due to an administrative issue.

"We can confirm there is nothing mechanically wrong with the engine which makes its triumphant return to Scotland post-restoration on Saturday 14 May with the York-Edinburgh leg of the Cathedral’s Express service.

"We share the disappointment of the people of Scotland who were hoping to catch a glimpse of Flying Scotsman on its travels through Fife and the Borders”

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Borders Rail (CBR) said:

A Huge Insult to Scotland- Aye, right!

Campaigners say Network Rail has completely failed to understand the vast ramifications of cancelling the Flying Scotsman visit to Borders and calls for a public enquiry.

CBR says nothing short of a public enquiry will satisfy the anger felt across the community at the failure by Network Rail to make the necessary preparations of the visit of Flying Scotsman to the Borders Railway. In a statement, the Campaign said Network Rail was paid public money to build the Borders Railway and make it suitable for Flying Scotsman and other steam locomotives to make occasional journeys to help boost Scottish tourism.

Allan McLean, Chairman of the CBR noted: “Network Rail says it never had enough time to arrange for an event a lot of people had been looking forward to for months. Network Rail is using its own incompetence to try to justify the unjustifiable. There's a two-word Scottish response to this insult: Aye, right!"

Allan McLean added there was no excuse for this failure to perform the job the infrastructure company was employed to do. “This is a massive insult to Scotland,” he said. “From the distant vantage point of Network Rail HQ in Milton Keynes, this represents nothing more than yet another administrative error resulting in the cavalier cancellation of a charter train, for which several hundred people have paid premium fares to enjoy a special day out. What they have totally failed to comprehend is the iconic nature of this particular visit, and the tens of thousands of visitors this particular occasion would bring to the Borders.”

The Campaign was been heavily involved in lobbying for charter facilities on the railway and is actively engaged in the tourism effort for the line as reported at on rail.co.uk.

Simon Walton, past chairman and the Campaign’s representative on the Scottish Borders Tourism Partnership, articulated the wider implications of this cancellation. “It’s not just the passengers on the charter and the organisers and operators of the train that have been inexcusably let down,” he said. “The whole Borders community has gotten behind the tourism potential of the line. This excursion represented one of the biggest opportunities yet to use the line as a huge tourism boost for the Borders.”

Mr Walton added: “Far more than a charter train, of which there have been many already on the line, this was a showcase event, particularly for the town of Galashiels, where huge effort has gone into promoting and commemorating the visit. This has let down residents, businesses, local authorities and tens of thousands of would-be visitors. It’s a massive publicly blow for the Borders. Network Rail cannot be allowed to stand aloof from this deplorable dereliction of duty.”

Allan McLean noted that given the public funding of the railway, and the leading role taken by Network Rail, their behaviour must be brought to account. “This is a huge insult to Scotland by an organisation that has zero credibility, unalloyed by its huge efforts to spin its repeated failures in many aspects of running and developing the national railway network. There must be corporate accountability to the people of the Borders and Scotland, and individuals must pay with their careers for this gross incompetence. We demand the regulator, the Office of Rail and Road, investigate their conduct, and a public enquiry needs to be convened so this autonomous juggernaut is brought to book.”

Scottish Parliament attacks Westminster

The last minute cancellation by Network Rail of Sunday’s visit to the Borders of the Flying Scotsman must be fully investigated according to local MSP Christine Grahame. Ms Grahame, a leading campaigner for the return of trains to the region, was furious to learn that the routes had not been individually assessed by engineers in advance of the visit which has resulted in the cancellation of the event.

She said: “This is appalling news and I am very upset on behalf of all of those who have spent a good deal of time planning this event. It is complete incompetence by Network Rail to have failed to carry out the work necessary for the train to travel on the line when they have known about the visit for two years. “I will be contacting the Chief Executive as well as the Transport Minister, Derek Mackay, at the earliest opportunity to find out why this came to light with only a day to go until the visit was due to take place.

“I travelled on the Union of South Africa on the opening day of the line last year, which I am assuming would have to be prepared for in the same manner, so it’s surely not rocket science that this should have been done long before now.”

Ms Grahame is urging local people who are affected by the cancellation, including business owners who had made special arrangements for the visit, to contact her office and she will be happy to make representations on their behalf to Network Rail.

She added: “I was in Galashiels today and there was a real buzz about this event. There has been a lot of negativity about rail services being cancelled and other issues and the area could really do without this added bad publicity. “I understand Scottish Borders Council will make further announcements on what events will still take place on Sunday. “I will also be pressing Network Rail to compensate any businesses or local organisations that will be out of pocket as a result of the cancellation.” Network Rail was paid public money to build the Borders Railway and make it suitable for Flying Scotsman and other steam locomotives to make occasional journeys to help boost Scottish tourism.

The Press Officer to Christine Grahame MSP said: “I am keeping in close contact with Scottish Government Transport Minister Derek Mackay over this matter as I understand he was in the dark about the cancellation as much as anyone else was until the Network Rail announcement. “If the Network Rail GB HQ element of the process had been fully devolved this debacle would not have occurred. Mr Mackay is pursuing the UK Transport Minister and I will be remaining in touch with him to ensure this fiasco, which is wholly down to Network Rail, is fully investigated and people affected are compensated accordingly.”

Anti-steam Managing Director and department head?

It is well known that the Network Rail-Scotrail Abellio Managing Director Phil Verster is not a steam train fan and so far, non has been advertised by Abellio for this summer, unlike last year. But surely senior Network Rail staff should have been monitoring the series of Flying Scotsman trains to make sure everything was in order, especially Rachael Gilliland who heads up the department in charge of steam charters.

Mid-afternoon breakthrough but investigations will follow…

The behind the scenes talks between Edinburgh and Westminster miraculously brought a solution at 3pm on May 14th. Following this, various comments were made:

Derek Mackay, Scotland's Transport Minister, accused Network Rail of "appalling incompetence" and kick-started the process to resolve the problem and later on social media said: “Solved. Flying Scotsman will run on Borders and Fife. Questions remain on how it came to this, but thanks a solution was found. This however does not explain how we ended up in this farcical situation, nor will it comfort the many people who have been looking forward to this day and have had to amend or cancel travel plans at the last minute.

This is not the end of the matter, I am still committed to seeing a full investigation into the reason why the initial work by Network Rail GB was not completed in time and how it was mishandled so badly.”

Mark Carne, Network Rail’s chief executive offered a wholehearted and sincere apology adding that an investigation into Friday's cancellation will still take place. He said that “Overnight and through today our engineers and analysts have worked hard to find a way to get the necessary safety checks and engineering assessments done. I am pleased to say that we have been successful and are now able to reinstate the original planned tours of Flying Scotsman in Scotland on Sunday. I wholeheartedly and sincerely apologise for the consternation caused by the premature announcement yesterday. Once the tours have been safely and successfully run, I will be instigating a full investigation into how this problem occurred on our railway in Scotland.

Steam Dreams emailed passengers with the following message at 3.15pm:

Dear Passenger

We are delighted to announce we have been informed by our Train Operating Company that Network Rail have since revised their position on tomorrows trips and both will now run as initially planned - steam hauled by Flying Scotsman. The times will remain as issued.

Our apologies for the briefness of this email but we wanted to inform you of the good news as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely

Steam Dreams

The trains ran as planned but the fall-out will be interesting and will appear here.

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