By Jonathan Webb
NINE months since it ran its last train, GWR Castle 4-6-0 No. 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe on the ‘Christmas White Rose’ from Tyseley to York on December 16, Tyseley-based Vintage Trains has been granted an operating licence by the Office of Rail and Road, as reported in Headline News last issue.
The long delay in completing the process has meant that VT has not been able to launch the new TOC on its trademark ‘Shakespeare Express’ service as originally envisaged.
Although this hiatus was frustrating, and had an undoubted impact on cash flow, the company is placing that all behind itself and looking to the future with a host of exciting proposals that will encompass not only steam, but heritage diesels and other TOCs.
Commercial director Ben Mason explained that for quite a while prior to the decision by West Coast Railways to stop crewing VT’s charters, Vintage Trains had been “quietly looking” at other companies to supply crews.
Therefore, it seems likely that West Coast would have seen a sharp reduction in demand from VT in the near future anyway. This exploring of options had been, Ben emphasised, underway quite a while before the Wootton Bassett SPAD on March 7, 2015, when a West Coast driver passed a red signal protecting the junction shortly after a Great Western HST had passed through.
The main drive behind looking for alternative suppliers was a report by VT trustees that identified the biggest weakness in the business case was an over-reliance on one supplier.
Surprisingly, due to its lack of vacuum brake locomotives, DB Cargo said that it had no objection in principle to operating charters on behalf of VT, but was concerned regarding what would happen in the rare case of a failure occurring and the train needing rescuing by a vacuum-braked locomotive.
With the relatively local ‘Shakespeare Express’ this would be a much lesser problem, as VT would just need to conduct a fitness-to-run examination on Class 47 No. 47773 (formerly No. 47541 The Queen Mother) and make it ready, so that all that was required was for a driver to “push the button” and run to the stricken train.
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