Farce on a Friday

IT’S a Friday afternoon, 20 minutes before the office closes when people begin to drift away for the weekend.

The phone rings in the office of a railtour company hundreds of miles away.

It’s Network Rail HQ, which says “sorry, but you cannot use Flying Scotsman on the new Borders Railway on Sunday as we don’t have the data to gauge the line”.
Sounds like fiction, but it is fact. The timing is just appalling.

It’s even more incredible that a ‘gauging issue’ arises with a line that opened just nine months ago – and one where data should be readily available, especially as it was built with future electrification in mind.

The situation was also inexcusable and avoidable given the advance notice of 12 weeks that has to be given for steam tours.

When one considers that ‘A4’ Union of South Africa and ‘A1’ Tornado have ran over the line previously – the latter being a new build – it makes Network Rail’s claim “we are unsure if the unique design of the Flying Scotsman is compatible with the current railway infrastructure” look a bit weak.

With social and national media galvanised into action, Scotland Transport Minister Derek Mackay, concerned at the multiple impact on tourism of the ‘A3’ not appearing, rattles a few sabres in the Network Rail tree.

Hardly surprising given the £300million paid by the Holyrood Government to Network Rail for the Borders Line construction.

Miraculously, 18 hours after ‘Scotsman’ was ‘off’, the train is reinstated – but only after the intervention of Messrs Carney, Hendy and Verster. The trio will be less than pleased their weekend was disturbed due to an ‘administrative error’.

Still, the damage has been done.

The PR fallout has been massive given ‘Scotsman’s’ public standing, and what could have easily descended into a farce was no more than egg on face.

While Network Rail is undertaking a full investigation, it raises serious questions about the way gauging is managed, resourced and prioritised.

And then there’s the new rule of no published timings for the ‘A3’ to deter trespassers.

While I fully support the no trespassing stance and all efforts to deter it, it begs a pertinent question – have we really spent £4.2million to restore a steam loco (the people’s loco, at that) for it to only run in total secrecy?

Is making its tour times secret really the answer or a just knee jerk reaction?

Let me know your views.

Hat’s off to GB Railfreight
WE always knew that the final Class 66 to be built for the UK would be a special locomotive, and having been hidden for a couple of months, No. 66779 was unveiled on May 10 at York, resplendent in BR Brunswick green, orange and black lining, plus a working bell – American style – and a brass Evening Star nameplate.

GBRf has never been afraid to be different and push back the boundaries, and I raise my hat to them.

I suspect No. 66779 may become a ‘marmite’ loco, and some readers may baulk at the copycat identity with ‘9F’ No. 92220 Evening Star, but it’s a fitting finale for a thoroughly reliable class of locomotives that have transformed the UK and European freight scene.

Furthermore, in a magnanimous gesture, GBRf has already offered the loco for the National Collection – although that will be in around 40 years’ time.

CHRIS MILNER, Editor

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