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Then and Now
Rail Tours for
enthusiasts have been around since the late 1940’s. Specials have run
since the turn of the last century but these have not necessarily been
specifically for enthusiasts, being troop trains, rambler specials and
This article looks at
how rail tours operated 50 years ago in contrast to today.
One topic which
caused a great deal of discussion in the letters pages of the railway
press was that of photographers who did not contribute to the running
costs of tours. Sounds familiar? One society even went to the lengths of refusing to
issue timing sheets. More on this later.
In the 1960’s
trains often comprised 8 or 9 coaches including a buffet restaurant.
Tours tended to use stock that would otherwise lie idle, especially at a
weekend. They were therefore cheap to operate. In contrast, today there
are dedicated rakes of coaches for tours owned by companies such as
Riviera Trains or West Coast Railways. As their only use is on rail
tours, the ticket prices reflect the cost of dedicated maintenance.
Whilst today tour
participants have reserved seats, accommodation on a 1960’s were
generally unreserved although party bookings were catered for.
What's interesting are the two coached reserved for those with tape recorders, something that Vintage Trains offer today.
In 2016/17 dining is
a large part of a rail tour operation with probably more than half
passengers taking this option. Seated in specific dining cars, two or
three meals are often provided, ranging from a full breakfast to a Silver
Service, three course dinner. A separate buffet car caters for
non-dining passengers with light
refreshments. Tours today attract a clientele that are not necessarily rail enthusiasts but those looking for a
day out that is a little special.
Back in 1966/67,
where a dining service was offered, a buffet/kitchen car was included
with an open coach for diners. But this was reserved for use by diners who had pre-booked a meal and for
use at specific sitting times.
example of what was offered is set out below :
The September 1966
issue of the Railway Magazine had a letter from one Mr. G Jones. He
protests at the tours advertised to run by “so-called societies”. He
says that on one rail tour, “it is omitted that stout boots are
required, as I am sure one of the branches to be visited has been
lifted!. On another, the array of motive power to be used is (to say the
least) fantastic. One wonders if B.R. knows about these trains.”
Were there too many tours advertised in the 1960’s?
The Railway World
editorial comments on the
chaotic situation of enthusiast excursions (November 1966). The
editor, G. M. Kichenside, writes that during the spring and summer of
1966, trips had been advertised using all types of locomotives, suitable
and unsuitable and over a variety of routes. But when it comes to the
actual operation of a tour, “many, far too many, of those
published in advance do not run.”
organisers of some tours have not even bothered to find out beforehand
whether their proposals are practicable; a few have advertised trips
over lines not merely closed to traffic but lifted.”
The editorial goes on
to say that the contraction of steam operated lines means that tours are
largely confined to the North West and the South Western Division of the
Southern Region. This leads to itineraries being repetitive and with
more rail tours being advertised the smaller the chance of
any of them running.
recently, the major societies consulted with each other on rail tour
plans to avoid duplication of trips in the same area on the same date.
Now with all and sundry joining the bandwagon, the whole aspect of rail
tour operation is becoming chaotic”.
The editor suggests that a halt must be called to the present situation, “otherwise BR may not be so keen on co-operation in the arrangements of tours by responsible organisations during the next and final year of steam.”
And when rail tours
did run, not everyone was happy. In the November 1966 issue of the
Railway Magazine, Mr. D. Masters complains about the thoughtless conduct
of participants on rail tours and particularly non participants. He
cites problems of trespass. “These people contribute nothing to
the running of the tour and are more often not even in possession of a
platform ticket". He suggests the suspension of platform
tickets and access to areas where a tour train stops. He also suggests
timings are kept secret.
But Mr. G. R. Hounsell
writes that it is “regrettable that a leading club has recently
announced that the practice of issuing timing sheets to those wishing to
photograph tour trains from the lineside is to be discontinued” and
goes on to say that “it seems unfair that in order to obtain
vital timing details enthusiasts should have to pay 3s (shillings) for a
copy of the printed itinerary.”
The following month
Mr. P. R. Arnold wrote in response that he usually studies maps and
gradient profiles before following a special train “with the
idea of finding scenic positions at which to obtain good photographs”
rather than at “photographic stops behind hordes of enthusiasts
attempting a photograph. It is for this reason that I often prefer to
get lineside shots rather than travel on the special trains.”
He goes on to defend the practice of charging for a timing sheet or even
a printed itinerary which “will prove to be a useful reference
in future years.”
The society who
suspended the issue of timing sheets was the Locomotive Club of Great
Britain and their Hon. Treasurer, Mr. C. F. D. Bottoms, wrote in defence
of their decision. He claimed that “so many people are choosing
to photograph the train in action, rather than travel on it, that the
situation has been degenerating into the state where nobody travels on
the train but everybody wishes to record its passing.”
Understandably promoters of special trains cannot regularly run them at
a loss and the “3s charge for a copy of the itinerary is, I
submit, an all-too-modest charge for the privilege of securing details
of passing times.”
Today we are blessed with the internet. The UK Steam web site is invaluable and forums such as National Preservation provide updates and reports on the progress of many tours. And Real Time Trains provides a running commentary of the progress.
In 2016 when the
reappearance of “Flying Scotsman” resulted in a number of serious
trespass incidents, the publication of times were suspended. That
didn’t stop those in the know getting details from various web
Published 23 May 2017
audio, text and documents on this website are copyright Des Shepherd who
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Patents Act 1988