Letter from the Chairman
Dear Passenger & Friend,
I am writing to update you on how we are progressing during the pandemic and our emerging plans generally, now we are phasing out of lockdown and everyone seeks to find their feet in the 'new normal.'? The charity trustees are meeting frequently to review the situation and consider next steps which we are now putting into effect as we move forward incrementally.
We entered 2020 with a comprehensive plan for our express steam trains on the mainline and The Shakespeare Express summer season.? Allied to the latter, our vision to make the Stratford line Britain's mainline heritage railway is gaining momentum, with strong support from the West Midlands Rail Alliance, Network Rail and other stakeholders. We also planned to upgrade our train, focussing on those carriages which need a comprehensive refurbishment and also beginning our upgrade plan for our site at Tyseley which includes refurbishing the GWR depot staff club building. Unfortunately, Covid-19 applied the emergency brake, derailing our plans in these areas. Since lockdown and the furloughing of most of our staff, our organisation has been seeking to improve on our emergency budget created in March at the outset of the pandemic. Funding our fixed overheads, including a significant insurance bill, rates and other unavoidable charges has been an unprecedented challenge, quickly soaking up the very funds that we had earmarked for the stock refurbishment, marketing our trains and developing our site.
This means we will need to re-establish our working capital following the drain of Covid-19, wake up the business, shake off the dust and get the show back on the road! Key to our 2021 train schedule, both mainline and The Shakespeare Express, will be the refurbishment of our train and our Tyseley depot site, including the staff club building which will be a tremendous asset and a great place to meet for us all, including the local community - these are the projects where this money will be spent. We will have more details on this in the near future.
Tyseley Locomotive Works
Tyseley Locomotive Works has prepared its business recovery programme. We have kept the works open on a skeleton staff throughout the pandemic and lockdown. This will significantly help our proposed return to work plan as everything has remained fully functional. From the end of this month, we will bring team leaders back to work to familiarise them with the recovery plan for working safely and with social distancing and then, step by step, recommence engineering activities for our customers and ourselves. Nearly all our customers have confirmed funds to continue projects already in progress, so we can expect to see the completion of several GWR 4-60s: Erlestoke Manor, Bradley Manor, Betton Grange and Kinlet Hall together with much progress on Duke of Gloucester, including reuniting the boiler with the frames.
We are ready to lift Earl of Mount Edgcumbe's boiler for its internal and external ten year inspections; all preparations and much of the other remedial work having now been completed. 5043 is on track to return to the mainline in 2021. Pannier tank 7752 will return from the West Somerset Railway and be available for use as required on the depot until her boiler certificate expires at the end of the year. 7029 remains fully serviceable.
We are developing an engineering programme for our train so that it too is ready and in good shape for 2021. This includes the commencement of the installation of controlled emission toilets, window limiters and automatic door locks, all in accordance with plans agreed with the Office of Rail & Road.
Thanks to kind donations to the Pullman Club, we will also be able to undertake necessary work on Pullman parlour car 353 so it can return to traffic in 2021. The Pullman Club will remain open so that we can refurbish all three operational Pullman Cars and also bring first class car Eagle into traffic as soon as funds permit. We welcome more members and you can join www.pullmanclub.co.uk.
We are now ready to reassemble the turntable following repairs and this is expected to be operational later in the summer. We will then begin a programme of site tidying and clearance to improve the general presentation of the depot and enable plans to be laid for reopening parts to the public.
Vintage Trains Limited
We are devising a business recovery programme for VTL and plan to run our next main line train in April 2021, beginning with a Shakespeare Express. Our plan includes the promotion around two long distance day out charters each month from March onwards, together with our usual season of summer Shakespeare Express trains with some expansion into weekdays, subject to market research currently ongoing. We hope to be in a position to take bookings from the autumn. We anticipate Clun Castle making her much anticipated return to the Settle & Carlisle line in the new programme as well as a return to several favourite trips and some new ones together with visiting locomotives.
The trustees believe it would not be prudent to offer main line trains this year; there is too much uncertainty around passenger safety and willingness to travel to make our financial position secure in committing us to a Shakespeare Express season.
Following the tremendous interest shown by many in volunteering, we have begun some new groupings to help us develop the future:
1 - The Shakespeare Line
With support and encouragement from West Midlands Rail Alliance and Network Rail, we have begun planning to develop the Shakespeare Line from Birmingham Moor St to Stratford upon Avon as Britain's pioneer heritage main line. Our first planning step is to ensure the Shakespeare Express is embedded within the planning for the regional timetable and proposed upgrades. There is some current uncertainty about timetable upgrades due to the franchises effectively being under Government control currently but, nevertheless, we are planning two daily charter paths which can be used to begin our expansion programme. We expect to offer some trains on weekdays next year in addition to the regular summer Sunday express trains.
Additionally, we plan to create destinations around all the stations along the line. There are very many stories to be told and attractions to visit. Initially, we plan to begin with Moor St, Tyseley, Henley in Arden and Stratford upon Avon, as these are already Shakespeare Express station stops. As the plan develops and more stations along the line become adopted, we expect to augment offerings in conjunction with West Midlands Railway, Marketing Birmingham and Shakespeare's England. We will test the market in several ways in 2021 with a view to a 2022 launch in conjunction with the Commonwealth Games Cultural Programme.
2 - Marketing the Shakespeare Express
We are establishing a new team to review the development of this important train, core to our main line programme. 35 years ago we tested the market with eight trains over the GWR 150th anniversary weekend and we have run a highly successful regular charter service for some 20 years, but only in the summer months. We will look at the best ways to expand this service to more days of the week and at different times of the year, introduce new on board offerings, additional types of train, different station stops, joint marketing and promotions and a variety of motive power. 2021 will be a year when we will try some of these concepts out to enable us to build a comprehensive development plan.
Many of you will have travelled on the Shakespeare Express (some of you more than once!). We invite all of you to join us in this important work by completing a short survey so we can include your views. Please click on this link https://forms.gle/nxrdUiL8WniTUTDBA.
3 - Tyseley Junction
We have adopted Tyseley station and been awarded a DfT grant of ?80,000 to help begin the first phase of refurbishment (grant now subject to verification following the pandemic outbreak). Additionally, Network Rail is expected to undertake some structural improvement in Control Period 6. Together with West Midlands Trains, we plan to place this historic GWR junction station firmly on the map and connect it with developments at our own Tyseley depot.
We have established a team of volunteers to bring the GWR depot staff club back to life. It is an historic building in its own right as it was created as a dormitory for wartime loco crew and then went on to become a social club for depot families. We intend to recreate the social function for our community and neighbours and also use it as a catalyst to begin to reopen our depot to the public, together with Tyseley Junction station. Whilst we have a team of willing volunteers, we can always welcome more and we will need some funds to carry our roof repairs, electrical improvements and other refurbishment inside the building. We have set an initial budget of ?20,000 and if you can help us, either by giving your time or donating funds (we can reclaim gift aid), we would be most grateful.
If you would like to help us with any of these initiatives, please contact Matthew Self at?Matthew.Self@vintagetrains.co.uk
We will continue to keep in touch with you to let you know how things are progressing and our plans for the future so that you are kept informed. In the meantime, we are holding a virtual Tyseley Virtual Open Day?on Saturday 27th June when we have some fabulous events and tours to amuse you. Why not put the date in your diary and settle in for a day of fun where you can also participate by joining The Tyseley Virtual Open Day Facebook Group.