2017: the year of the achievers

It is now 20 years since I moved sideways from an evening newspaper newsdesk into the world of railway magazine publishing. It was tougher than expected but a quickly very rewarding learning curve, and in those two decades so much has changed in the sector.

Having followed the railway revival movement since my childhood, I recall so many schemes that set up with the avowed intention to restore public services on their chosen closed branch line. However, such early optimism was quickly edited into the setting up of a heritage railway, to run enthusiast and tourist trains only on high days and holidays. A prime example was the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Back in 1997, as today, news pages can easily be filled with the aspirations of revivalists. However, in 2017, we saw many of those dreams turn into hard reality.

The Swanage Railway achieved its long-held goal of running ‘real’ public services along the complete length of the restored branch and over the main line into Wareham, with West Coast Railways as train operator. Back in the mid-Seventies, the revivalists started out without a single track panel laid, and I first visited Swanage station with my future wife in the spring of 1984, all I saw was an industrial tank engine running short trips to the first bridge and back.

A similarly amazing story can be told by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, which just before Christmas ran its first train into the rebuilt Broadway station. I recall my first visit to Toddington in 1983, when the only track laid was there to store the line’s first rolling stock. Like the Swanage Railway, it too has been built from scratch, and I long for the day when it finally has a main line connection, at Honeybourne, or if the burghers of Cheltenham show a few sparks of imagination, at the southern end of the line.

Now Broadway has been reached, let’s all help the Llangollen Railway get into Corwen town centre and likewise the Bala Lake Railway reach a new core audience.

When I first drove into Woody Bay station in 1998, I was met by an army of enthusiast volunteers but no sign of track or trains… apart from my four-year-old son playing with a diecast push-along model on a platform edge! This year, we have seen a replica of one of the legendary line’s original locomotives hauling a rake of restored coaches, underlining my long-held belief that once it breaks out of its strait jacket and reaches Blackmoor Gate or Lynton and preferably both, it will become a major West Country tourist destination in its own right.

It certainly is the one to watch.

For two decades in the job, I have regularly heard the phrase “it will never happen” in relation to the Great Central Railway’s bridge over the Midland Main Line at Loughborough. However, on a freezing September night, I was overjoyed to see the first beams being lifted into place.

I am greatly saddened by the Heritage Lottery Fund’s shock withdrawal of its indicated multi-million grant for the GCR’s planned museum at Leicester North, which has also angered fellow backer Leicester City Council.
I believe the Lottery has got it wrong big time – however, I can see that there is even greater determination to succeed, and hope that the funding shortfall can quickly be sourced elsewhere. As a project it too richly deserves to succeed.

Over my two decades in the job, I have   regularly by necessity recounted the great tales of the setting of British steam speed records by the likes of City of Truro, Mallard and Flying Scotsman. Therefore I felt honoured when the A1 Steam Locomotive Trust invited me to take part in one such run in 2017, featuring No. 60163 Tornado.

Unlike the timers of old, I had GPS technology to record a heritage era record of 101mph between Newcastle and Doncaster, where instead of having to wait until the next edition of a newspaper went to press, I was able to jump straight into my car and drive to the nearest wi-fi hot spot to tell the world all about it minutes later via our market-leading www.facebook.com/heritagerailway page.

Landmarks have been coming thick and fast, and let’s hope to see more in the coming year!

Robin Jones, Editor

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