And so to York a few weeks ago, along with Mrs K. We travelled on many rail tours during the 1990s during my time with RAIL magazine, but this was the first one we have been on for a good many years. Steam-hauled to York with Union of South Africa and Royal Scot was a real attraction.
With almost three and a half hours advertised in York it was a good opportunity to visit the Christmas Market there and have a look around.
We were aware the train had left Norwich late, which we were told was due to operational problems affecting several trains from the Norfolk station but at Peterborough the information screens proclaimed the train was ‘on time’. At the departure time of 10:49 the screens still said ‘on time’ but there was no train – in reality is was several miles away at March.
Then came a nightmare for East Coast controllers. A Hull Trains Class 180 from London to Hull was in trouble just north of Helpston level crossing. The station announcement said that all lines were blocked and trains would be held at Peterborough due to an incident on a train. Later investigations revealed that what was described as a catastrophic engine failure had ruptured a fuel tank on the train and emergency services were in attendance.
It was therefore interesting to hear the train manager on the charter tell passengers the delay was due to a fire on a freight train. Wrong on two counts fire and freight!.
We took this up with the charter operator who said that
“Our train manager will only pass information on to passengers that has been provided to him by Network Rail. I can not comment on whether that information was correct/incorrect”. I would be interesting to know what message was passed from Network Rail - I bet freight and fire were not included in it.
We departed Peterborough an hour late and lost further time – maximum speed was 75mph with steam haulage – as we had to give priority to other scheduled East Coast services. This was expected as charter trains are times in marginal ‘white space’ train paths.
After leaving the Newark we were informed that Network Rail had refused to re-time the return trip to a later time. This is in my view not surprising as it would take a substantial time to recover from the late running that was now affecting the whole of the East Coast route. It was, therefore, somewhat unfortunate that the train manager on the charter chose to be highly critical of Network Rail over the train’s PA saying how Network Rail see charter trains as being at the bottom of the pile.
I accepted the tour operators conditions when booking but wanted to know what recourse to compensation they have for delays – even through passengers accept they have no recourse to compensation when booking.
The tour operator said: “There were delays on the day…… these were beyond our control and the reasons for these were explained to everybody on board via our train manager’s announcements and/or our stewards walking through the carriages. When delays are experienced there is no compensation to ourselves as we are bound to accept these within our contract with Network Rail/West Coast Railways. Our private charter services do not take priority over service train traffic, for obvious reasons.”
I understand that charter train operators do operate under a version of the Section 8 performance regime with Network Rail.
The return journey was a little uncomfortable as the coach we were in was extremely cold. We were told that is because of the vagaries of steam heating which means that at times heat does not reach the whole of the train. I don’t buy that as the coaches either side had heat.
The tour operator again responded:
“Since the trip ran we have been made aware of the heating issue in coach E by our operator, West Coast Railways. We are very sorry for this. Usually on our Winter trains we have a diesel attached which, if the steam locomotive is not generating sufficient heat, helps out and the carriages are plenty warm enough. We did request this for our train on 7th December, unfortunately on this occasion there was no diesel locomotive made available to us and the steam locomotive did struggle to get heat through to all of the carriages. I should say that do state in our terms and conditions that for trips taken during the Winter months customers should take extra items of warm clothing with them in case the need arises for this. West Coast Railways have of course looked into the cause of this and the issue has now been rectified.”
So the cold coach was due to a defect and in my view nothing to do with the steam locomotive struggling to get heat through to the whole train.
Then as we pulled into Eastfield Yard, Peterborough on the return to change from steam to diesel traction a classic on train announcement. Passengers were invited to look out of the window to see the Hull Trains train that had been on fire passengers were further told that they could see it still smouldering.
That was a real surprise and concern.
A smouldering train with no sign of emergency services around it!
A smouldering train and a passenger train put on a line alongside!
Professionalism was something that was thin on the ground during this trip.
Steven Knight is a Transport Specialist who has over 40 years experience in the bus and rail industries as well as in specialist transport journalism. He is a member of the Chartered Institute of Journalists.