Monday, 24 August 2015

Plc Away-day Meeting

 A couple of weeks ago on Saturday 9th August 2015, the Plc Board held its annual all day board meeting. This is an opportunity for the Board to get together and spend as long as is necessary discussing some of the more pressing issues facing the railway. This is something which is simply not available at a normal Friday evening Board Meeting, when so much other business has to be dealt with.

The principal matter for discussion at this meeting, was to seek to agree upon a plan of all that remains necessary to open the railway to Broadway in the Spring of 2018; now less than three years away.

A huge amount has already been done, but here is still a tremendous amount to do. It was agreed that we should now work to a five year plan of opening within three years, to be followed by two years of consolidation.

The greatest difficulty we have in planning for the opening, is in being able to predict with any degree of certainty how many extra passengers we are likely to have to provide for. We also need to consider their travel patterns. Will they want to travel from one end of the line to the other, or will they want to break their journeys? That has a significant impact on a proposed timetable. It also impacts on the facilities we have to offer at each intermediate station.

After much discussion, we came to the decision that however it is finally structured, for normal services the timetable will potentially be two seven coach steam trains each day, with a DMU running over part of the line. So, similar to how the timetable is now, but expanded and reorganised.

Obviously, we would prefer it if people broke their journey; spent more time on the railway and sampled all we have to offer in the way of entertainment. For that reason, we are considering the possibility of terminating one of the steam services at Toddington to create the potential for passengers to change to another train to complete their journey to Broadway. It is still in the planning stage, and no final decisions have yet been made.

We considered volunteer resources required for running an expanded railway with a more intensive timetable; at least in mid week. We have had a significant number of new volunteers recently in various departments, but those who have gone to operational departments will take time to be trained and feed through to actually filling rosters. We have to ensure that as far as possible, we have enough staff to actually operate the trains we timetable. Our mid week trains are already getting busier, and we need to plan to continue to resource them.

Facilities at Broadway have to be considered. There is provision in the proposed new building for either a shop or a cafe; but not room for both.It was felt that a waiting room and shop with tea / coffee facilities might offer more, and be easier to manage. With the new EPOS system installed, a single till could cover all facilities. Decisions need to be made, to match the construction and fitting out.

Obviously all this expansion has to be paid for, and it is no secret that we have felt for some time that we need to plan another share issue, to seek to raise sufficient to cover the cost. If we cannot raise enough money, we shall not be able to open. It is as simple as that. Much of the preparatory work for this share issue has already been done by our Financial Director Chris Bristow, and he will be working hard at completing it in time for Easter next year when it will be launched. The success of this share issue is crucial; the anticipated profit on our day-to-day operations over the next three years, will not on its own be enough to pay for the proposed extension.

You will note that I have not mentioned actual tracklaying. Provision has of course been made for that, but just clearing and repairing the formation; dealing with fencing, drainage, signalling, cabling and building a basic track layout from Laverton into the station will cost in excess of £750,000.That is not including the construction of a car park at Broadway, which is of course essential to an opening there.

Please also bear in mind that whilst so much remains to be spent on the extension to Broadway, there are necessarily only limited funds available for work elsewhere on the railway. We have to continue to manage, fund and operate a very successful heritage railway whilst all this expansion continues.

I hope that this summary gives you a little flavour of all that is going on, and how much effort is going into working to bring this expansion in our railway to a successful conclusion.

Richard Johnson
Director & Company Secretary.

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