Hello to all my watchers.
What follows is an open email to the Office of Rail Regulation, regarding recent proposals which could hurt charter train operation in the UK considerably. Currently, if a charter train is delayed up to the point that it delays other service trains, the operating company in charge of the train is only liable for a maximum £5000 penalty fine. If the fine amount exceeds £5k, Network Rail picks up the remainder. Under new proposals, the £5000 cap will be lifted, and operating companies will be responsible for the full fine amount no matter how large, so if a delay runs up a £15000 bill, the operating company has to pay in full.
This is my email direct to the ORR, also forwarded to the NRM York and the NRM Shildon, and shortly will also be forwarded onto the PM David Cameron, DPM Nick Clegg, leader of the opposition Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin MP, Mayor of London Boris Johnson and the London Museum of Transport:
To whom it may concern.
Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Christopher Sutcliffe, known as CJ Sutcliffe by many, and I'm a photographer from Manchester, specialising in transportation photographs. I've been brought up with the railway, my dad was a guard on British Rail from the 1970s til the early 1990s, and both he and my uncle share a great interest in the railway at heart. This was passed on to me, and since a very early age I've been heavily interested in transportation, mostly heritage transport, and heritage railway rolling stock above all.
I know of many people, including myself, that hold heritage in high regard. The lessons learned in the past can, and indeed have, greatly influenced the people of the future. When the Liverpool - Manchester railway was constructed in the 1830s, it was an engineering pinnacle, a milestone, and more than anything, a foundation. The lessons learned in the development of the railway influenced the people who took the railway as an entity onwards into the 20th century, and onwards once again into the 21st century, into our world.
The icons of the past are just as important as the icons of the present. The milestones of the present were influenced by the milestones of the past, and all of what we have today was brought into being by education and knowledge. The knowledge of what happened and what existed in the past, and the education of how we can take that technology and develop it to fit into a modern world with increasingly stringent requirements. Part of that process of education involves working items of past, and having working items of machines and technology from the past also creates the knowledge of what was done to create them.
Heritage holds the key to where we are going. Present day items of rolling stock may not currently seem like much else than just another machine/set of machines, but one day and one day soon, these machines will be teaching the people of a future generation what we did, how we made things better, what things we did right, and even what things we did wrong, and how to avoid these problems. Heritage will lead us into a brighter future.
I heard of the ORR's publication of new guidelines regarding mainline operation of heritage rolling stock, and the decision to remove a cap on penalties for delays of charter trains. The removal of the cap leaves operators exposed to the risks of failures and issues fully, with no safety net. Having read these reccomendations, I have some questions, and even alternate suggestions which may be cheaper/easier to integrate into the current mainline operation plans.
Firstly, the financial repercussions of this decision. In this current economic climate, jobs are scarce and business is volatile. I work in retail, and being on the front line of service to the general public I can respect how valuable profits and income are not only to companies, but the people they employ. I only work part time as no full time positions have ever been made available to me, and I receive benefits due to my Aspergers Syndrome, yet still I find it hard to even break even most months. Costs are spiralling almost out of control all over the shop. And it's the same in the railway world, the cost of fuel is skyrocketing, the cost of rolling stock maintenance and procurement is going up to the decreasing availability of spares and new parts, and the materials needed to make these new parts is also decreasing thus pushing up the price of procurement of the raw materials. To take a locomotive mainline is a herculean task. After an extensive overhaul requiring parts, materials and labour in epic amounts, the new equipment required to operate on the mainline, TPWS, AWS, OTMR and GSMR then needs to be acquired and fitted, at further cost of both acquisition and labour of fitment. It's been known that in excess of £1m can be spent on taking a locomotive mainline, small change to the major public service operators, but mega bucks in the preservation world.
The removal of the penalties cap would make the operation of mainline tours and loco movements a financial liability each and every time. It was suggested that each company should find their own insurance for the tours they operate, but in the long run, no insurance company would ever agree to insure such a trip as one from London Euston to Carlisle and back (The Cumbrian Mountain Express and Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express). This would in turn result in a decrease of tours and movements very sharply indeed. With that would come a financial loss to the operating companies involved, and such a loss could, and in some cases would, be a crippling blow. It would result in more companies being pushed into administration and more people becoming redundant, yet more victims of oppressive spending cuts and reforms. Yet more members of the club of people the government at heart wants to eradicate/reduce: The Unemployed.
Secondly, the wider picture. It seems to me that charter trains are being unfairly victimised in these new proposals, with such services formed of mostly heritage rolling stock being effectively outlawed on the national network. Some days there are no charters running to cause any delays to other service trains, yet service trains are still delayed/cancelled. Why is this? Is there some sort of recurring flaw that creates these problems? It's hard to believe that with so many delays still on the network even without a charter service "in the way", that a cure can be found in culling these services from the network. There must be, and indeed is, a lot of underlying problems that need to solved, and the culling of charters to me, is not a solution. If charters have to pay for the delays they cause/encounter, then surely a service train that delays other services should also be as heavily penalised. At the moment it doesn't seem like this is the case, with favouritism being passed to the public operators.
Thirdly, alternate measures. The solution to the inherant problem of trains with older locos either failing or encountering issues does not lie entirely in fines and financial penalties. The problem can be reduced or solved by the presence of backup machines either on the rear of each of these tours or en-route if the operators prefer steam/diesel/electric under it's own power with no extra weight to deal with. The requirement to provide backup motive power is a simple stipulation to inaugurate with a minimal amount of paperwork to push through parliment. And all over, it's a cheaper solution, not without it's risks of course but there are far fewer risks involved in that suggestion. And then again, what decision is without it's risks?
Fourth and final, the image we portray. England is a nation that is immensely proud of her national heritage, there was no better example of this than the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London, which was dominated by such things other than sports such as industry, the NHS, the invention of the World Wide Web, the presence of royalty. And much of that was a portrayal of history. It's the same story on the railways right now. England was the birthplace of the railway as a modern item, and the railway as an entity was also built and developed here. The many developments we have created and implicated over the years is what we portray on our mainline tours, and in the process we put on display what our achievements have brought us, where we have come from and in some cases where we are going. Mainline tours as widespread as they are are important to the nation to display to as many members of the future generation as possible what the previous generation did for them, and to inspire them to join in and possibly aspire to do the same, or to just keep the items of the previous generation running as an advertisment to the wider world of just what's possible when you put your mind to it. It's also a very good advertisment for the United Kingdom as a whole, tourism thrives on such images as national heritage, and with the railways being our invention in the 1800s, what better way to show off the UK than to allow the appearance of heritage rolling stock on the mainline, either where it once was or where it still is and belongs.
I have been helped along the way by the online publication, UK Heritage Hub. An online magazine, run entirely by volunteers for enthusiasts of all kinds of British heritage. They have been working tirelessly around the clock making sure people are fully aware of what repercussions this could cause and building support. There is currently an online e-petition on the HM Government website which has collected 2000 signatures in under 48 hours, and still has the better part of 3 months to run.
Inspiration and image are at the heart of preservation and heritage, to relegate it off the centre stage is a damaging act to national image, pride and morale. My message is, keep the UK looking as attractive as possible, keep our heritage in place. It deserves to be seen by all, and all deserve to learn from it's existance.
Afterall, we are the country that invented the railways, we should be proud and willing to show that off to the world, London Underground's recent 150 for example...
CJSutcliffe Photography, [link]
UK Heritage Hub, [link]
Furthermore, the online petition to government can be found here - [link]
Thank you all for your time.