Monday 17 September 2018

That was the 1940s weekend, thank you!

Wow, what an event! The 1940s weekend is now packing up after a truly fantastic couple of days. Throughout the entire railway, everybody got into the spirit of the time and there was a real buzz of enthusiasm and excitement everywhere. I am sure lots of lessons were learned for next year, but this year was outstanding.

A huge amount of effort had been put in everywhere, the displays at Bishops Lydeard, land girls encampments, the timber corps, military vehicles...and of course the whole event at Watchet where the entire town seemed to be out with displays and entertainment. Thank you to everybody who helped make this a such a success.

A massive thank you from me to Robin Wichard who oversaw the event and  to everybody who took part. I appreciate how much effort goes into this sort of thing and how much dedication is required. Well done, you should be proud of what you achieved. The railway looked at its best and everywhere i heard only positive comments. Well done and thank you.

My job, along with Mrs C, was to escort the King and his entourage around the railway and so I can only report on what I saw. We travelled by train to washford where we inspected the troops and took in the displays including the wonderful 'road up' gang and even the lad selling contraband chocolate from his violin case. Then a rapid drive in open top jeeps saw us at Minehead to sympathise with the bombed out refugees and also to inspect the military train and its crew. Another open top jeep ride took us to Watchet where the King was greeted by the mayor and shown around the town.

Sunday was much a repeat, but gave us the opportunity to visit the Victory Stores at Watchet station, a fantastic recreation by two dedicated individuals and again witness the military train passing through. Minehead station again to hear the entertaining UXB talk, then back to Stogumber for cream teas. 

Traveling around, the stations looked great, the bunting out, staff in period costume, windows taped up. Well done to our station teams.

There are so many highlights that it is difficult to single out anything. For me, travelling back to Stogumber, as I looked down the carriage all I could see were personnel in period costume, it felt fantastic and really looked the part. 

Here are some of my pictures, loads more on the Facebook page and of course on Steve Edges

See you all again next year!

Monday 3 September 2018

"One Railway"...what does it really mean?

I have been asked on many occasions since 23 August to expand on the “One Railway” principle. I had thought that it pretty much did what it said on the tin, but I will now do my best.

I should start by saying that I did not invent the term. I am not sure where it came from, but it emerged after the Robin Coombe “Road Ahead” report in 2015. In two words, it encapsulates exactly how the management of the railway should be taken forward.

The WSR family is a broad one. The operational body is the PLC. The WSRA is a supporters and fundraising organisation. The WSSRT supports the heritage of the railway. The DEPG focusses on diesel locomotives, the SDRT runs Washford station and promotes the history of the late lamented SDJR. Then we have station groups, locomotive owning groups and on top of that informal groups who run different parts of the railway. To my mind, this is part of the WSR’s richness and diversity. We all do our own bit, the bit we are most engaged with and this keeps the wheels turning. It might be complex, but it generally works and works well. But there is a fatal flaw in this too. Groups can become blinkered to their own views and their own plans to the exclusion of others. One group may wish to pursue a particular strategy and may divert resources onto it, whereas another group may be doing something that undoes that work. Two groups might duplicate work. And worst of all, members of one group might decide they don't like the work or membership of another and try to disrupt things. These things are not constructive - nor are they unique to the WSR.

This came to the fore in a big way in 2013 when the WSRA became embroiled in a argument with the WSR PLC. I was involved in those events and it was not a happy time. Groups of individuals became embittered and embattled. Others felt under attack. We were pulling in opposite directions and if we were not careful, something would have broken – and that would have been the railway. I wanted to reach out with an olive branch from one group to another, to try and understand other's points of views, to try and get us working together, to share information - and I got illegally suspended as a trustee for my efforts.

These difficulties were resolved and we all fervently hope that we will not return to those days.
One Railway has now become the guiding mantra to prevent it happening again. Working together we can achieve miracles, working apart we will struggle to do the smallest things.

It's about at all times asking yourself, “What is best for the railway?” rather than “Whats best for my organisation?”, or even worse "Whats best for me?". It's about understanding each other, about working together. It's about respecting other's viewpoints and their needs. It's about compromise, collaboration and communications. We have seen some excellent examples. The wagon restoration group has made truly fantastic progress using resources and help from most of the major players on the railway. One group has provided funds, another has facilitated spending money in cost effective way, another has provided material help. The BESTT Apprenticeship scheme sees the WSRA and the WSR PLC working closely together to provide a supported training environment for three young apprentices in Minehead shed. This is what One Railway means to me: All of us working in a supportive way to ensure the future success of the railway which we support.

Link to the wagon restoration group

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Personal Statement from Ian Coleby.

Personal Statement by Ian Coleby.

Today my director colleagues have decided to remove me as chairman of the West Somerset Railway. This gives me great regret and sadness, not for myself but for the stability and reputation of the railway. I have been chairman since December 2017 and I have tried my best under very difficult circumstances to ensure our railway is successful. Sadly, those efforts have not been fully appreciated and I now join the ranks of past chairmen of the railway.

I would like to thank all those volunteers and staff on the railway who have supported me during my time as chairman. At the stations, in the offices, workshops and in the messrooms, I have always been greeted with smiles and a cup of tea. Thank you to all who work so hard and so fantastically for our railway, I appreciate your support.

Throughout my time as chairman, I have acted at all times to promote the principle of “one railway” where all the different groups on the line work closely together for its success. Teamwork really is the only way and the latest dispute, of which I am now a victim, can only harm the railway. It is incumbent on all of us to overcome our differences, put our personal feelings to the side and work together to ensure success. I support all the various organisations on the railway and I support their joint efforts to work together.

I explained at the AGM that the railway is in a very serious financial situation and some tough decisions need to be taken to get us back to stability. Our costs are far too high and we must grow the income side of the business. Above all else, taking those decisions and gaining financial security is critical. This need trumps everything else and is where we should be totally focused.

I do not intend to resign as a director and I remain on the board in support of my colleagues. I thank again all of those people, too many to mention, who have helped and supported me over the last 8 months and who continue to do so.

My AGM address can be read again here

Ian Coleby

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!