Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Gateway project at West Somerset College

I had a very interesting day today. As part of their 'Gateway' project, Careers South West ran a two-day business development exercise at West Somerset College in Minehead.

The premise was that the WSR requires to develop its station at Bishops Lydeard. The young people at the college were split into teams of about 6 or 7 people and given the project brief, they had to come up with a development plan which then had to be presented back to the tutors and railway representatives.

The teams appointed surveyors, architects, commercial and advertising leads and each studied their particular aspects. Initially I was allocated to the surveyors and i had to tell them a lot more about the layout at BL, what the constraints might be (eg ground levels, underground pipes, planning issues etc) and give some general background about what might be required.

there then followed mentor sessions, when we visited each team and discussed their presentation plans, answered their questions and gave more pointers.

Finally, we had to listed to the proposals and judge them!

There were some great ideas! In no particular order:

1. provide a wedding venue at BL station. It was suggested we could charge £6000 for a wedding and once costs taken out, make £144K per year.
2. Donate a quarter of all our profits to the Dogs Trust
3. Build an underground multistory car park so that visitors' modern cars are hidden from the heritage railway (cost was £1M per storey!)
4. Build a maze in the shape of a turntable
5. use as much sustainable material as possible, recycled bricks, reclaimed timber etc
6. build an interactive museum with 'speaking boards' to encourage young people.

All the teams did very well with some very imaginative drawings and plans. The winning team was the one who had  costed out their proposals and suggested how it might be paid for.

Considering these were year 9 students, the results were very encouraging. Stepping back, all realised the need to expand visitor facilities, make them more attractive to visitors and to advertise them much better - I am sure we can all agree with that.

We do need top do more work at BL, it is our busiest station and does not present the image we may wish to our visitors. The board realise this and we have now restarted the BL development project which first came to light under the Southern Gateway project.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

A Trip Down the Line

Today was a day for the Chairman's day out! Not really on duty inasmuch as I didn't have any meetings to go to, but on duty in the sense of having a great day out and the chance to talk to people on the ground.
First stop was at Crowcombe to chat to Geoff about the Best Kept Station competition that is being held in just two weeks time. All is looking good at Crowcombe and I waited long enough to photo the down DMU as it paused at the station. Although steam trains are lovely, my train spotting days were 1970s diesels and this multiple unit brings it all back to me. I collected the best kept stations trophy and that is now safely at Castle Coleby ready for presentation soon!

Next we headed to Stogumber to view the work that Bob and Russel are doing on restoring the old cattle dock. Its good progress. A large skip was filled with rubble and Bob had exposed the original bridge rail posts. The current intention is to cap these with new wooden posts with metal rails. This is a pragmatic solution that will enable bridge rail to be substituted in the future if needed.

Lunch at the White Horse in the village.....

Then on to Watchet. It always seems a bustling station, particularly after the quite of Stogumber and Crowcombe. What did I notice? First rate floral displays despite the inexplicable theft of some plants directly out of the planters around the station. Incredible!
Here are some pictures of the floral displays at the station:

And here a view of the heritage display in the pagoda shelter where we sheltered from the rain...

Next a walk along Blue Anchor beach. I had no idea that this crossing was called Dingles Crossing - see the small nameboard. Has anyone got any idea why this crossing is so named?

On the way home we dropped into Doniford Halt. Incredibly, after 35 years of volunteering on the railway, this is the first time I had stepped foot on the platform here. Well that's put right then. The halt looks great, really well maintained. Despite its diminutive size, its an impressive place. Great foresight from those who rescued the platform from Montacute all those years ago.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

West Somerset Railway AGM 23 June 2018

And that was the PLC AGM!

The AGM was held last Saturday at the Hobby Horse. This is a formal meeting that has to be held annually and is the opportunity for the shareholders to listen to the directors reports and have the chance to question them on what they have been doing during the year.
Whilst only a two-hour meeting, it takes a lot of organisation to get it right. The formal buisness is straightforward, approval of the accounts, election of directors, appointment of auditors.

We then had an informal question and answer session and these will be posted as soon as we can. Some very perceptive questions were asked and some very good points raised.

The minutes of the AGM are now being finalised and also will be put on the website when ready.

It is up to the chairman to make an address, and I attach to this blog what I said. I won't elaborate on that here, but will be posting more on here as things become clearer.

 Chairmans Address 23 June 2018

Friday, 29 June 2018

Day trip to Barnstaple

It was another very hot day last Tuesday. What is the best thing to do? Relax in the garden or...well take a day trip to Barnstaple. Really easy from Taunton. Travel on a 125 (we will soon miss those) to Exeter St David's. Then a very quick and easy cross platform to an old GWR pacer for an easy trundle along the old southern tho Barnstaple. We paused at Eggesford tyo change tokens.

And then continued to the terminus. Although only a shadow of what it once was,  Barnstaple Junction station is endowed with southern green paint and southern signs.

There is a handy cycle hire shop where we took charge of a tandem for the cycle ride to Instow with its preserved station and signalbox.

An ice cream then a swift cycle back saw us home in time for tea.

Highly recommended!

Well hasn't it been a long time

I am sorry that blogging here has been intermittent. In fact, my last posting was way back on 19 May. So here we are a month later. What's been happening on the railway? We have had a heat wave and the loco crews are now taking special measures to minimise the risk of lineside fires. There have been a couple of board meetings which have been reported. We are now gearing up for the demanding high season and all of our staff are now working hard and for long hours to make sure the trains keep running. Well done to them all. 

Last Saturday was the company AGM. Although only two hours,  it is a formal meeting and takes a great deal of planning and work up front.  

I will write much more about all of these things over the next few days. Please keep checking in.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Country Railways

I live by the main line just outside Taunton, near Cogload Junction. It is nicely busy and I enjoy watching 125s pound up and down. Not for much longer though as the IEPs have started to appear.
Today we were out in the WSR and the difference struck me. Not sure why it's taken me all these years, but there we are. Settled into a comfy corner seat in a compartment, the gentle steam engine motion soon had my head lolling.
I found I was remembering Sassoon's poem:

 A Local Train of Thought

Alone, in silence, at a certain time of night,
Listening, and looking up from what I'm trying to write,
I hear a local train along the Valley.  And "There
Goes the one-fifty," think I to myself; aware
That somehow its habitual travelling comforts me,
Making my world seem safer, homelier, sure to be
The same to-morrow; and the same, one hopes, next year.
"There's peacetime in that train."  One hears it disappear
With needless warning whistle and rail-resounding wheels.
"That train's quite like an old familiar friend," one feels.

I was also reminded of John Betjeman's journey from Evercreech Jct to Burnham. I am sure most of you have seen it, but if not, please do follow the link and enjoy the next 26 mins. It is recommended.

Link to YouTube video

Friday, 11 May 2018

Best Kept Station Competition

We used to hold this competition several years ago but for reasons I don't understand we haven't run it for a while. Time to change that!

A brief conversation with Geoff Cross revealed his enthusiasm and we were off. In the past the competition has been done by a 'mystery shopper' but this time there is a set day, July 15th, when the judges will visit. I have secured the services of Richard Fox of Taunton Flower Show and Peter Tinckner of Wellington Camera Club to act as judges. Both Richard and Peter are railway enthusiasts and regular visitors to the railway.

I am pleased that the station staff have keenly taken to the idea and already the stations are looking fantastic. 

Of course, this is not a new idea. The GWR used to run a station gardens competition which sometimes was judged by George Luttrels wife. George not only lived in dunster castle but was also a director of the GWR. Blue anchor museum has a copy of the winners certificate from the 1930s when stogumber won it. We have designed a new certificate based on this which will be awarded in July. Below you can see both the GWR original and the modern version.

I sincerely hope this will please the heritage committee!