By Phil Marsh

West Coast Railway Company resumes operations after Rail Regulator lifts Prohibition Notice

Published: 13th March 2016

Charter train promoters breathe a sigh of relief after a month of waiting

The West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) operates around 95% of all main line steam services in the UK and about70% of all non-steam charter trains on the national network.

It is based at Carnforth in Lancashire and has an outbased depot at Southall in West London operating its own trains and services on behalf of others. It also operates many services which are used to keep the rail network operating such as engineering trains, snow clearing and ice clearing services. It has also been used to film the network for a type of ‘googlerail’ project and recently rescued two Scottish sleeper services which had failed.

The company operates its own fleet of around 15 diesels and six steam locomotives on over 100 carriages. It has grown to the extent that it is a multi-million-pound operation employing over 100 operational staff across the UK in addition to its engineering activities.

Growing pains?

And it was perhaps this growth that has partially led to its travails with the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) last year and this year with Prohibition Notices served on it due to safety related issues.

The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) has lifted the Prohibition Notice served on 17 February 2016 and it also launched a review of WCRC’s safety certification in December 2015 triggered by several incidents, some of which are disputed.

The Prohibition meant that WCRC was given 24 hours to return its trains to its depots and then the company was unable to operate trains on the main line network until ORR revoked the ban. This included being satisfied as to its governance and making sure its rail operations met industry practice and are fit for the scale of its operation.

ORR requested and has now received evidence of assurances that steps have been taken to remedy the issues we identified. These included: the introduction of clearer governance structures with proper accountability for safety; more robust risk assessments; and enhanced processes for managing staff, with a focus on safety culture.

They said:

ORR Director of Railway Safety and HM Chief Inspector of Railways, Ian Prosser said:

“A decision to stop any train operator from running rail services is never taken lightly. I am satisfied that WCRC has now taken all the necessary steps to address the issues of concern on safety, such that I am now able to lift the Prohibition.

“We shall continue to closely monitor WCRC over the coming period to ensure that their approach is embedded into the culture of the company and that they fully comply with all the commitments they have made.

"Fit and proper safety management is one of the reasons we now enjoy the safest railway in Europe. ORR will never compromise on safety.”

Alternative arrangements for some?

Tyseley based Vintage Trains decided to cancel their services until further notice and wrote to passengers:

Dear Friends and Passengers,

In the light of the ORR's prohibition notice served on WCRC (West Coast Railway Company) effective 18th February 2016, we are writing to advise you that we feel we have no option other than to cancel our Spring railtours.

Along with several other tour promoters, we have been solely reliant on WCRC to operate railtours on our behalf. The current situation has however caused us to engage in vigorous discussion with other train operating companies and results are currently extremely encouraging.

Vintage Trains continued to say that “Our aim is to have steam operations back up and running as soon as possible and our target is the Shakespeare Express season. Thereafter we plan to operate a modified steam programme into the Autumn and beyond. Prior to the Shakespeare season, we hope to run several diesel hauled charters to popular seaside destinations. As soon as we have confirmed dates and have full itineraries in place, we will notify you and invite you to travel with us.”

If you have existing bookings on the above railtours, we can either: With regard to future railtours, we cannot offer any firm dates as yet, but negotiations with alternate TOCs (Train Operating Companies) continue and results are very positive. We hope to be able to confirm future dates and itineries shortly.

Local economies will be relieved

Towns such as Fort William and Mallaig will be relieved because they rely on the daily steam service which runs between May and October in the West Highlands bringing tens of thousands of tourists to the area.

But because the Settle-Carlisle line is still closed north of Settle, places like Appleby will be suffering because it will remain without charter services for some time and Network Rail cannot give an estimated date when the line will re-open.

Who else is there in the charter market?

The other main charter train operator is DB Schenker but they have very limited steam crews and other resources are similarly scarce so far as running specialist trains. GB Rail Freight operate a few charter trains and Rail Operations Group will commence passenger operations in May but both these companies like DB Schenker, can only operate at the fringes of the special train market.

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