ELR Open Forum Q and A Session
The third annual ELR Forum took place on Friday 16th November 2018. Those who attended heard from Mike Kelly and Tracey Parkinson about the positive progress being made right across the railway.
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.
This is 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 funding 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
Q1 Question – When will Heywood get a proper station?
Q1 Answer – Developing permanent facilities at Heywood Station is an ongoing ambition of the ELR Trust, ELLRCo, Rochdale Council and Heywood Township. A number of initiatives have had mixed outcomes in improving facilities. It is hoped that further initiatives can be identified in 2019 leading to the development of station facilities.
Q2 – 13065 The Crab – Given this loco was refurbished only 4 years ago which promised a 10 year boiler ticket. Why can’t the ELR sue the company which carried out the work to help pay for these repairs?
Q2 Answer – Contractually, the company who carried out the works are no longer trading and the nature of some of the failures were not visible at the time of repairs. The focus now is to make sure that all restoration works are set out within an agreed contact (which is now in place) with Ian Riley & Sons Ltd.
Q3 – Burrs Country Park Station – When the station was being planned was any consideration given to building a nine carriage platform?
Q3 Answer – A nine carriage platform was the preferred choice but the costs were prohibitive giving the budget graciously donated by Bury Council, Caravan Club and Friends of Burrs totaled £240,000. In effect we could only afford to build a five carriage platform or none at all.
As part of the ELR’s next 10 year strategy (2019-2029), the ambition to extend the platform will be included.
Q4 – Communications – Lots of comments from audience, frustrated at what they see as variable to poor in volunteers and paid staff being kept up to date in their departments. Poor communications between departments i.e. Operations and Commercial departments Several suggestions were made including:
- A centralised e mail distribution system which doesn’t rely on heads of departments cascading down information.
- Better use of notice boards.
- Scheduled meetings with agreed actions between Operations and Commercial.
- Random communications audit to check to see if communications are reaching everyone.
Q4 – Answer – Clearly the importance of good communications at all levels is an organisational is imperative. The suggestion of a centralised single distributions list will be explored, although this would be for ELR wide communications. For departmental communications more feedback from volunteers and paid staff is needed to identify where the weaknesses lie.
Q5 – Management Training – A number of volunteers raised concerns about the skills and competencies of newly appointed middle and senior managers. There was an overall view that new managers received little formal training to help them come to terms with their new responsibilities.
Q5 Answer – The General Manager acknowledged that this is an area which the ELR needs to not only rapidly but substantially improve its performance. A management, staff and volunteer training programme is being developed and funding allocated to build in for 2019 with priorities identified for those most in need. Progress will be reported to Board by the General Manager. A Training budget for 2019 will be discussed at the next ELR Board meeting in November.
Q6 Youth Group – As a major heritage railway why does the ELR not have a youth group unlike the Severn Valley, NYMR and others who have flourishing groups attracting and retaining young people who are the future resources needed to run the railway.
Q6 Answer – The General Manager has a list of potential Youth Leaders but the completion of a safeguarding policy is required. Work is nearing completion and it is hoped to get a youth group with dedicated projects being lined up and active in 2019.
Q7 IT Systems and Support – Various concerns were raised about the reliability of the ELR’s IT system, in particular internet speeds and performance of e mail systems where support is variable with consequential delays to resolve problems.
Q7 Answer – Over the past two years there have been significant improvements both to the IT infrastructure and the numbers of people connected to ELR digital and telephonic systems. The ELR have invested £30,000 to improve resilience/reliability by owning our own servers and associated infrastructures. Whilst this has improved reliability there is still much to do to catch up to where we need to be.
Q8 – Suggestion Scheme – Several Individuals raised concerns that people who come forward with new ideas are being dismissed by line managers without explanation.
Some departments often get in the way of volunteer ideas and are inflexible to change. The creative side of the volunteer force in some cases is being suppressed.
Is there not a value to the ELR having a quarterly briefing where staff and volunteers can come together to discuss and work out solutions?
Q8 Answer – It was proposed and agreed that a volunteers forum would be established in order to provide a platform for suggestions to be brought forward. The General Manager will invite upto 12 volunteers to attend the forum with representatives from each area of the ELR.
Q9 – Staff/Volunteer Welfare Support – Younger volunteers come with fresh ideas but people with more experience sweep your ideas under the carpet. Often managers actions can be misunderstood leading to grievances.
There is a need for a dedicated resource to help youth, staff and volunteers such as a Staff Welfare Officer.
Q9 – Answer – It is recognised that on occasions what starts out as a small issue can quickly escalate to reach a grievance. Investigating and managing the Grievance procedure ties up a lot of staff time.
A welfare type post is being actively considered to act as a filter to try and get issues resolved at the ‘coal face’.
Q10 Ramsbottom Gates Operation – When will the gates be fully restoring which avoids the need to manually lock these gates?
Q10 Answer – Post Note from meeting – Ramsbottom Gates now fully operational. Our thanks go to the volunteers from S&T for completing this complex but very important restoration project.
Q11 Diner Carriages Security – Currently the Diner set is left out on the station where private security is costing thousands of pounds a year to protect. Could the offer from a small group of volunteers to put the Diner set away in the evening after each trip be accepted?
Q11 Answer – The Evening shunt group has now been set up, our thanks to those volunteers who are helping with this initiative.
Q12 Question – Use Freight Wagons on the ELR – For many year freight rolling stock has been simply left and abandoned because the ELR are not interested in running freight trains, unlike other heritage railways. When will the ELR get this sorted?
The ELR keep saying there are no freight guards as the priority is for guards for passenger service. Why can’t the ELR have a pool of freight guards?
Q12 Answer – It is the case that many of wagons with private owners are simply rusting away with no prospect of restoration and take important operational areas of the depot (especially once the new Diner/Carriage Sheeds project comes on stream). Several dozen wagon who are in that category have now been identifed. The owners affected will be consulted about what action is being taken.
Over the recent past there has and continues to be a severe shortage of guards on passenger services, where there have been numerous cancellations of timetabled services in 2018. To overcome this situation, the ELR’s focus has to be on bringing on more guards as a priority.
If and when it is appropriate Freight Guards will be recruited.
Q13 Question – Guards Fast Track Training Programme – This is a great idea. However, there is concern that guards could be asked to assess the trainee guards when they are not trained assessors themselves. Will any training be provided? Documentation needed before this can be done.
Q13 Answer – Appropriate levels of training will be offered.
Q14 Question – Heritage Operations Processing System (HOPS) – Any updates on whether the ELR will adopt this system?
Q14 Answer – HOPS is being actively considered for adoption. The ELR Board will discuss adoption at their Board meeting at the end of October.
Post Meeting Note – The ELR Board agreed to adopt the HOPS for competency management and recording.
Q15 Question – Too many events overtaking ordinary running is there a reason for this?
Q15 Answer – As a heritage railway we will always seek to protect and preserve the ELR’s heritage pedigree.
However, the need to meet the costs of increasing levels of important investment in our skills base, increasing demand to improve competencies, infrastructure and critical restoration programmes requires promotion of more commercially led events to help pay for these additional costs.
Q16 Question – Departments are still turning away Young volunteers. If this is the situation what can be done about it?
Q16 Answer – In overall terms there should be no department actively turning any volunteers away. If volunteers can’t initially be properly integrated into a department because of a shortage of mentors/buddies it’s understandable that there isn’t always an immediate acceptance.
Having recorded record numbers of working volunteers (808) most new volunteers are finding a place in the ELR.
Q17 Question – Ramsbottom Buffet – What is the situation with the tea hut at Ramsbottom? What is the policy where volunteers work alongside paid staff?
Q17 Answer – As always we need volunteers to staff the facility, but these aren’t always available.
Q18 Question – Why are so many trains running late in 2018? Station staff and passengers service bear the brunt of visitors frustrations. Are there any plans to improve timetable performance?
Q18 Answer – In short the 2018 timetable didn’t build in sufficient time for taking on water, run rounds and crew breaks.
This has been addressed as part of the changes to the 2019 Timetable.
Q19 Question – Why can’t TTI’s and Booking Office staff be allowed to sell passenger tickets on event days? Potential passengers are being turned away because they are not attending a planned event but want to travel as an ordinary passenger fare. There is an option to sell tickets after the last full round train on event days.
Q19 Answer – The use of discretion is to be encouraged.
Q20 Question – Platform Announcements. On occasions in 2018 communication from the platform at Bolton Street have been poor both to customers and between departments creating confusion, criticism and damaging the ELR’s reputation. What can be done to improve performance?
Q20 Answer – Agreed that more effort should go into a better level and more informed announcements.
Q21 Question – City of Wells Funding Update. Are the ELR considering installing electronic donations points using smart phones, like the one installed on the KVWR?
Q21 Answer – Yes, this technology is actively being considered and where, if adopted, the first donation point will be located at Bolton Street staton.
Q22 Safety Management System – some staff and volunteers are circumventing certain parts of the SMS that are deemed ‘a pain’.
Q22 Answer – The SMS is the ELR’s written statement of what and how we work safely. Health and Safety is everyone who works on the railway.
Working safely is everyone’s responsibility. If staff and volunteers witness unsafe practices they should challenge such behaviour. Failing that it should be reported the immediate line manager.
Q23 What is the ELR’s policy towards paid staff working alongside volunteers
Q23 Answer – In all roles its volunteers first and then if a volunteer can’t be found to fulfil the required role then paid staff, but there is no official policy.