How do you adequately summarise and do justice to another record breaking year at East Lancs Railway. A year where we had many highs and a few lows?
Amongst the many high points I have to include the hugely successful treat for diesel enthusiasts with the unique collection diesels at the 40s at 60 weekend; a visit by the iconic Tornado locomotive; records tumbled at the annual 1940’s Weekend along with a sell out Halloween, culminating with a first ever sell out Santa Specials with 41,000 visitors.
The fantastic efforts to purchase 34092 City of Wells were grasped with both hands resulting in a successful funding campaign reaching over £300,000 with outstanding contrbutions from John Stephens and Alex Choremi.
During the year we topped 800 plus volunteers for the first time, a singular and gratifying milestone in the ELR’s long and illustrious history and where the ELR picked up two major tourism awards from Lancashire and Bury who acknowledged the great work of staff and volunteers. Towards the end of the year Bury Transport Museum created a moving commemoration for the 100th anniversary of the ending of WW1 where photos of thousands of local soldiers who lost their lives during 1914-1918 were shown.
It is also worth noting that after two very challenging years the Trackside and Buffer Stops have combined to produce record revenues out performing 2016 levels.
Dining with Distinction successfully retained its No1 status across Greater Manchester’s many thousands of restaurants on Trip Advisor throughout 2018.
Running a heritage railway brings many challenges and the ‘runaway trolley’ incident at Ramsbottom was a very low point and exposed the railway’s reputation to national scrutiny, and where many operational changes have been implemented to ensure we improve on our safety and operational performance. Add to that the huge loss from service of 13065 (the crab) only 4 years after major restoration. This was a big financial blow and one which requires a six figure sum to get the locomotive running again sometime in 2020 with increased ‘hire’ fees for replacement locos. This will mean less finance available for other projects.
What is undeniable is that 2018 was a significant milestone when looking back over the development of the railway over the past 10 years where Amion’ (see my last blog on this) independently assessed performance over that period. The outcome was to publically acknowledge that the development of the ELR was ‘outstanding’ right across the railway and more widely in job creation, educational visits, local supply chains and tourism etc. Through the continued growth of the railway the ELR are now one of the major leisure attractions in the North West and 3rd largest heritage railway nationally (standard gauge).
What Does 2019 look like?
Infrastructure Developments – As we move into 2019 we can look forward with confidence in progressing the many exciting developments which are at various stages of progress. Rawtenstall, Castleton and Heywood are all projects that will help the growth of the railway in terms of our infrastructure; improved station facilities and creation of heritage destinations. As for Buckley Wells (see photo), subject to planning approval and securing appropriate funding, Phase 1a could commence in 2020.
Heritage is not about quick fixes as we can see over the 31 years of the ELR. Developments take time and patience and are incremental in their nature and progress can often be frustatantly slow at times because we can only make progress as and when projects are afordable and resourced.
10 Year Strategy 2019-2029 – The ELR Trust Board, in conjunction with the ELR will publish a new 10 year strategy in 2019 where we can, with self belief and determination, build on the success of the previous 10 years but never losing or forgetting our core values of protecting our heritage, valuing our staff and volunteers and preserving the culture of the ELR.
Improved Operations Structure – Our investment in strengthening the engineering and operations infrastructure will continue along with the bedding in of improved safety monitoring and expanded training programmes right across the railway. A new finance system is being introduced where each department will have and be responsible their own budgets. This will be trialled for 12 months.
Events Calendar – We have planned another great events calendar, but there will be no scheduled visit from the Flying Scotsman. We will also erect a Volunteers Plaque at Bolton Street to recognise and celebrate the work and support of past, present and future volunteers.
Volunteers Forum – Following suggestions made at the 3rd annual ELR Open Forum in November a new volunteer’s forum is to be established with volunteers representing each department who will meet regularly to discuss issues of the day and make suggestions to management as appropriate.
Finally – What doesn’t change is the fantastic support the railway enjoys from its record breaking number of volunteers, who all make the railway the outstanding success it is today.