HERITAGE SERVICES 2013: A statement from Ed Ellis, Managing Director, Weardale Railways CIC.

 

“We have waited to announce the plans for the Weardale Railway for 2013 until we had time to fully analyse last years results and then  use that information to develop our plans for the future. The key element of the 2012 operations was the successful running of the first ever Polar Express operation in the UK. Iowa Pacific now operates the Polar Express on  a total of 7 railways here in the UK and in the USA. In its first  year the Weardale Railway Polar Express train carried over 37,000 passengers, which is more than were carried on any of the US railways we operate and was well ahead of our expectations.

The Polar Express and the coal trains  from Wolsingham both made a substantial financial contribution, but when taking into account the Heritage train operation and other costs, the Weardale Railway made a loss in 2012, albeit at a lower level than in 2011 and earlier years.  

Since it acquired a majority stake in the Railway, Iowa Pacific’s  UK Subsidiary British American Railway Services has made a substantial financial investment in the Weardale Railway. This investment funded the connection to the main rail network and the maintenance and expansion of the infrastructure at Wolsingham and Bishop Auckland. It has now become time to consolidate the railway’s financial position by concentrating on activities that will make a positive contribution to the bottom line and help to pay off the substantial investment loans which have been made.  

Our plans for 2013 will focus on three main operational elements. First, the continued operation of the freight traffic. These trains usually operate 5 or 6 days per week carrying coal to power stations and steelworks further south. We are pleased that last year every train from and to the network was operated without incident despite the extreme weather events of 2012.

Secondly, we plan to operate the Polar Express again in 2013. Again here the full timetable was operated and extra trains were laid on to cope with demand. This was achieved only with the heroic and dedicated efforts of the staff, both full time and temporary, supplemented by the volunteers of the Weardale Railway Trust. With the experience gained in marketing and operating last year we are planning to make this years ‘Polar’ an even better experience for passengers.

 Thirdly, we plan to run a service of ‘Themed’ trains, concentrating on value added services such as Lunch, Afternoon Tea, and Evening  Dining trains utilising the Mk 2 coaches  and diesel haulage. At the moment we are finalising plans to operate over 100 of these trains, operating on approximately 75 days. We are targeting to start these services in May.  

With the withdrawal of the Weardale Railway Trust’s steam locomotive for overhaul this year and the need for restoration work on some of the Mk 1 Heritage coaches, we have concluded  that it will not be possible to run a financially viable Heritage service using hired in equipment. We will use 2013 as a year to consolidate and plan, jointly with the Trust, for services in 2014.

In the original 2012  timetable we scheduled passenger trains to run on 91 days. This year we envisage passenger trains running on over 110 days, including Polar Express, so this in no sense a retrenchment, it is a re-focusing  of our operations aiming to put the Railway on a firmer financial footing.  

All of this, together with the running of around 300 freight trains and the ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure, means that 2013 will be a busy year for our staff and volunteers  and I look forward to continuing the work of redevelopment of the Weardale Railway with Durham  County Council and the Weardale Railway Trust.” 

                                  Ed Ellis : 15 March 2013