Those who attended heard from Mike Kelly and Tracey Parkinson about the positive progress being made right across the railway.
2017 – We all have to accept that 2016 was an exceptional year for visitors (Flying Scotsman Effect). Whilst visitor numbers are 3% down on 2016 they are up 10% on 2015. Nearly 2,000 visitors used our new station at Burrs Country Park from January to September. We are being told this is good outcome as other leisure attractions nationally have seen falls in visitor numbers.
More external recognition has been received for the quality of services where the ELR have, again, been shortlisted in the Marketing Lancashire and Made in Bury Awards to be held in November.
30th Anniversary – The 25th July, marked a significant milestone in the ELR’s history and it was a proud day for all those many thousands of volunteers who built and made this great heritage railway what it is today.
Tracey as our new General Manager joined us in July and gave her first impressions.
- Fabulous people all here with a common cause.
- Friendly and time for everybody.
- Wide range of locomotives and rolling stock.
- Workforce that crosses every boundary.
- Willingness for people to succeed.
Tracey identified what she sees as challenges going forward:
- Growth needs to be sustainable.
- Getting costs and waste under control.
- No financial forecasting or budgets.
- Business practices, no longer fit for 2017.
- Putting people being at the heart of everything that we do.
- Openness and transparency.
- Recruiting/retaining volunteers and creating a Youth Group.
- Creating new Partnerships.
What about the next few years?
- Need to better understand our customers – every successful business starts with the customer.
- Who are we here for? Why are we here? – Vision and values.
- Understand volunteer’s hopes dreams and fears. What matters to our people?
- Vision as to where we want to go next and what the ELR will look like when it is finished.
- Develop a Strategy on how to get there.
How we will manage the next 10 Years
- Celebrate that the ELR is top Heritage railway.
- Have a Positive and Confident outlook, need to reach world class.
- Secure financial stability, cost controls and adequate funding of capital programmes.
- Complete the exciting key station and infrastructure developments (Buckley Wells).
- Be self sufficient in maintaining ‘in hose’ our locos and rolling stock.
- Continue developing our skilled and motivated staff and volunteers.
- Invest in new ‘in house’ revenue generating events.
- Preparing for increased visitor volumes (Castleton).
- Publish new 2020-2030 Strategy.
At the end of the presentation the meeting was opened up to Q&A
Volunteers – We need to Invest in Volunteers to sustain the future of the Railway, what about creating a Volunteering Budget; closer links with local schools (ELR Team to visit schools) etc?
Everyone connected to the railway wants the same outcome. The ELR board and ELRPS Council have this as one of their top priorities. Volunteer numbers at 780 are at record levels. The Company and Society are committed to launching a Youth section but to date we have been unable to recruit a Team Leader.
The Chairman and General Manager have met with Bury College to develop a meaningful partnership to promote the work of the ELR and to offer work experience to studying tourism; drama; music and catering.
All suggestions will be discussed with the ELR Management Team.
Expenses – can the system for ‘non-timetabled’ working claims be more open and transparent?
It’s clear, in some, areas the process can always be improved. The General Manager, along with the Financial Controller will review current arrangements.
Internal communications – these can often be inconsistent, for example some volunteers only found out about the Forum the night before. Also what is being done to make sure those volunteers are not on the internet?
The General Manager acknowledged there was room for improvement and this was constantly under review and hopefully this aspect of the organisation’s workings will steadily improve.
Timetabling Pressures – Quite often steam crews haven’t the time to invite people onto the footplate as the Blue timetable has big gaps to accommodate Diners; last train doesn’t go back to Heywood, leaving some passengers cars stranded in car park; trains cancelled without proper communications.
It is important that all occurrences such as the last are feedback to make the GM aware. Review of timetable and passenger travel patterns. The focus needs to be about customer experience and operational resilience.
Marketing & Communications – Why can’t we advertise the ELR on the back of buses? display posters in local shopping centres; send out leaflets to schools; promote a package to bus operators for Friday Night Diner, staying over in the Premier Inn and a visit to Bury Market on Saturday?
The Commercial Team are very experienced and successful in marketing events and have extensively promoted the ELR winning numerous awards. The marketing team have confirmed they use ‘bus’ sides instead of the back. This year buses have carried Halloween and will be displaying Santas. The team are also working with tour operators and Bury Market for future opportunities.
Castleton Cross Platform– Who pays for the Light Railway Order? What progress is being made?
In overall terms Rochdale Council are leading the project and paying for all costs associated with the Feasibility study. The funding of future phases has yet to be discussed. The ELR are involved as a member of the project group. To date the Council have allocated significant funds to support the project – https://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/news-headlines/113088/plans-to-bring-east-lancashire-heritage-railway-to-castleton-progress
Castleton – I imagine, like many others, I’ve heard nothing for a long time, have no idea on current progress and have never seen any photos at all of the site development. I would also like to know if there is anything the average ELR member [or anybody else] can do to help further progress.
Overall, positive progress is being made. A feasibility study to assess the viability of creating a cross platform at Castleton is nearing completion and will be available soon. Rochdale Council have paid for this study.
Barring fairy godmothers, any further extension of the ELR will probably be in the direction of Bacup. Accrington, Bolton and Rochdale all have rail connections and the only major urban centre we could still connect is Bacup. Bearing this in mind, has the new master plan for Rawtenstall incorporated a possibility of a future break-out to the North?
As I understand it it’s not possible to get to Bacup now given the amount of new build along the old route.
Like everyone else the ELR has suffered from and must constantly be vigilant against scrap-metal theft. Has anyone ever suggested the reverse — having our own scrap-metal collection scheme? I would imagine that between them, the membership could probably bring in a few tons. Of course we’d still need to protect it against scrap-metal thieves.
I don’t believe we could secure sufficient quantities on a regular basis to justify operating an ‘in house’ scheme.