Keeping steam on the network: Tyseley: Shaping the future of main line steam?

As the steam railtour market undergoes one of its most significant overhauls in decades, Gary Boyd-Hope talks to Tyseley’s Michael Whitehouse about Vintage Trains’ bid to become an independent train-operating company owned by the general public.

ONE year ago The Railway Magazine presented an in-depth look at the strategic vision laid down by Tyseley for its long-term survival – not only in an ever-changing rail industry, but also as part of a multi-cultural and increasingly busy cityscape.

The masterplan covers all facets of the Tyseley operation, from the running of regular steam-hauled expresses out of Birmingham and the unique selling point of three ‘Castle’ class 4-6-0s, to the revival of the Metropolitan Railway Carriage & Wagon Company name and the redevelopment of the former 84E shed at Tyseley itself.

Express steam trains working out of Birmingham, hauled by Great Western-designed 4-6-0s such as ‘Castle’ No. 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, is the unique selling point of the Vintage Trains Community Benefit Society. ROBIN COOMBES

At the very heart of the plan lies Vintage Trains’ (VT) bid to become an independent, British-owned, fully integrated train-operating company (TOC), the application for which has already been submitted to the Office of Road and Rail.

In early December, the new Vintage Trains Community Benefit Society (CBS) launched a £3million share offer to raise the capital required to turn the vision into a reality. Included in this is a minimum sum (£800,000) required to prove to the ORR that VT has the financial wherewithal to run trains independently.

In a nutshell it sounds like a worthy and admirable goal, but look a little deeper and you’ll find that there is actually far more to it than that. For Tyseley’s move towards TOC status is not just about its own survival, but it may also help shape the future of main line steam operation as a whole.

To quote Tyseley chairman Michael Whitehouse: “Main line steam has reached a tipping point which is very real, and the railway preservation world needs to wake up, realise the issues and join with us in developing the solutions.”

As we fast approach the 50th anniversary of the end of BR steam, main line steam coming to a critical junction which, unless faced, understood and dealt with, could result in a ‘make or break’ situation for the railtour market. The issues Michael refers to are many and varied, ranging from the simple fact that we have a busier national railway network, to ageing motive power and an equally aging workforce.

Together these factors could heavily influence the future direction of the steam railtour industry, which is one of the primary reasons why Vintage Trains and others are striking out on their own.

Read more in the March issue of The RM – on sale now!

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