The West Somerset Railway PLC Chairman, Jon Jones Pratt, has released an update on the situation at the West Somerset Railway, which sees the railway close for 3 months in 2019.
The chairman has explained a number of key changes that will be made in the future, this follows on from the most recent board meeting.
The first change comes as Jon Jones Pratt has been elected unanimously to take on the role of Chairman on a permanent basis, rather than the current interim basis.
He is now working to restructure the board and focus on recruiting new professional directors with key portfolios in order to take the railway’s 2019 business plan and to deal with the recommendations from the Office of Rail and Road.
The board has seen a number of resignations from current directors recently (more information here). Mr Jones Pratt has thanked them for their good service.
Long-serving WSR plc managing director and HRA Vice Chairman Mark Smith has agreed to re-join the Board as our Policy & Business Development Director.
Now, what we must point out is that the ORR has NOT issued either an Improvement or Prohibition Notice on the West Somerset Railway, this is highlighted by the fact that all of the Santa Specials and Winter steam trains in December are running, and are filling up quickly. Make sure you give them a visit, I’m sure they would love to see you!
The railway also hopes to see GWR Manor Class loco No. 7828, originally named ‘Odney Manor’, to return to traffic in December. However – it will probably return in the guise of ‘Norton Manor 40 Commando’
Jon Jones Pratt is currently working on a specific action plan alongside the ORR about their recommendations. He has also made it 100% clear that there was never any major safety threats or unreported dangerous occurrences.
The decision by the West Somerset Railway to close for three months in 2019 has been seen as a positive and responsible decision by the Office of Rail and Road and demonstrates a commitment towards the safety of staff and visitors.
In reality, the closure of 3 months only contains 17 days of normal railway operations and four gala days. Jon Jones Pratt has pointed out that this will hurt the railway financially but it is a short-term pain for the long term as they address the action list.
The ORR letter to the chairman runs for a full eight pages long, however, there is only 5 key points that they have raised that the railway must take action for. Some of these changes are already underway, such as improvements in safety and infrastructure, tightening up procedures, record keeping and compliance, and staff and director appointments.
The West Somerset Railway has already had kind offers of help and assistance from other heritage railways for the postponed Spring Steam Gala. This includes the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, the Welsh Highland Railway and Tyseley.
This shows a big family relationship that exists when it comes to the heritage railway industry, and it is great to see. A new Acting Chief Mechanical Engineer post will be announced shortly.
In terms of more improvements, the railway will be focussing on the training and competency of all staff who hold safety critical roles, such as Drivers, Firemen, Guards, Signalmen and other operating staff. So a new SMS will be written shortly and the HOPS system set up to operate correctly.
Two areas have already begun, along with a department by department review and audit. Mr Jones Pratt has also invited the ORR to deliver some key learning messages and to assist with their training programme of which mandatory dates will be sent out soon – this will also be attended by an ORR representative.
To embrace the changes, the railway needs to tighten up its procedures to improve the heritage culture that the West Somerset Railway offers.
Jonathan Jones Pratt has made a personal commitment and the board must:
- The railway must turn this business of ours around
- The railway must operate in a fully compliant manner to satisfy the ORR
- The WSR must improve our revenue and cut our costs where we can
- They must build our business markets further, and focus on the future.
A recovery plan will also be drawn up at Board level and with senior management
Jonathan Jones Pratt has spoken with members of the Planning Team to let them know about the gala cancellation, and are now looking into holding a gala at a later date to coincide with their 40th Anniversary, once a date is agreed, we will update you.
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