We need to know!

Eleven out of 10 must go to Mark Carne, Phil Verster, Sir Peter Hendy and especially Scottish transport minister, Derek Mackay, for their intervention at one minute to midnight to make Flying Scotsman’s long-planned trips over the new Borders Railway and the Fife Circle in May happen.

However, minus several million to Network Rail for its earlier cancellation of the trips after failing to measure up both routes for the A3 – despite having been given the specifications for the tours by train operator West Coast Railways three months before.

The question everyone is asking, and rightly so, is – if it could be done as a response from pressure on high, right up to Scottish Government level, in just a few hours, so the trips went ahead, what were Network Rail planners up to in the previous 12 weeks?

Bearing in mind the nationwide publicity surrounding Flying Scotsman, and the decision by the rail authorities and the locomotive’s owner the National Railway Museum to do their best to keep timings of its movement a secret as far as practical to deter lineside trespassing, it beggars belief that Network Rail had in all that time not considered the most basic aspects of the planned Scottish trips.

Steam is a brilliant ambassador for the nation’s railways, and the runs of Flying Scotsman since its comeback from overhaul have attracted worldwide attention.

Yet that is not the point here. Under post-privatisation open access, every certified operator has the right to use the network.

By not carrying out the gauging measurements despite the trips’ extremely high profile and the given notice, Network Rail had failed miserably in its statutory duties in this instance, that is, until Mark Carne and his fix-it squad, prompted by a sudden swirling tornado of negative publicity north of the border, descended from above in the nick of time.

We welcome Mark Carne’s apology over this fiasco, but we earnestly wait to see in fine detail the report of his promised investigation into why it happened.

To talk about ‘administrative errors’ or insufficient staff available for the task over that period of time can by no stretch of the imagination be good enough for a body delegated with total responsibility for the network.

If Network Rail does not have adequate resources to do the required job, stand up and say so, or, like its failed predecessor Railtrack, make way for a new body that does. At the very least, never again come up with the pathetic excuse that something can’t happen – when clearly it could, and did, with great success.

Elsewhere, myself and many readers will be left utterly dismayed by the suspected arson attack that led to the driving trailer of the Swindon & Cricklade Railway’s ‘Thumper’ DEMU being gutted.

Since this two-car set was obtained in 2004 after Heritage Railway helped Porterbrook Leasing find new homes for this redundant slam-door stock, it has been a mainstay of passenger services.

Now, it seems, because of the need for amusement of a mindless minority, this heritage line has been deprived of a major income source.

Any such assault on heritage – of any description, railways or not – is an attack not just against the owners but on the public at large.

Of course we live in hope that the culprits will be found and given a meaningful deterrent sentence and compensation orders, but in the meantime, can we the railway community help out this smaller but commendable line in its hour of dire need?

Donations of cash no matter how small or offers of practical help should be sent to the address in Headline News as a matter of urgency.

On an infinitely more positive note, I cannot praise enough the Moseley Railway Trust for its superb Tracks to the Trenches gala at the Apedale Valley Light Railway.

The award-winning re-creation of a First World War trench railway, unique in the heritage sector portfolio, deserves to be elevated to the status of a major museum – and be the recipient of any major grant aid funding that would facilitate that goal.

Robin Jones, editor

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