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Railwatch 076 - July 1998

Making the most of rail assets

To what extent should RDS be involved in railway preservation? Some of our members are wary about too close an association, because they remember experiences with media people and politicians who have tried to portray us as sentimental, nostalgic steam buffs rather than as campaigners for a rail future or representatives of present-day users.

Some recent developments show the relevance to our work of, at least, those preserved railways that link, or have the potential to link, into the mainline network.

Back in 1984, I spoke at a meeting in Bodmin that was to lead, albeit tortuously, to the creation of the Bodmin & Wenford Railway. This preserved line plays an important role in rail-based tourism in Cornwall, but it has also fed freight on to the Railtrack network.

Our South West Branch has consistently supported the extension of the Bodmin Railway back to Wenford Dries. An RDS leaflet has been produced, putting the case for china clay traffic to be carried by train over the preserved line and then down to Fowey Docks on the present-day network. We have been lobbying North Cornwall District Council to support the railway as an alternative to heavy lorry traffic on unsuitable rural roads.

On the other side of the country, the Mid Norfolk Railway should, by the time you read this Railwatch, be running trains all the way from Dereham to Wymondham.

This railway - run by a Trust which is a corporate member of RDS - specialises in vintage diesel traction, but also plans to use steam during the tourist season. It is 24 years ago this month that Peter Lawrence and I were invited to a meeting of Dereham Town Council, where we were given a mixed reception when we put the case for restoring passenger trains to a line which had lost them five years earlier.

One councillor expressed concern that passengers might fall off the platform edges if stations were unstaffed. I jest not.

However, our early approaches led to a vigorous local campaign, some 20 excursion trains from 1978 to 1988 and, after BR closed the line to freight, its eventual purchase by the Mid Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust.

It has required patience, imagination and lateral thinking, as well as a lot of hard work, but the trains are now running.

Ministry of Defence traffic is also due to use the line, and the possibilities of excursion traffic to and from the branch is also being actively investigated as well as an eventual commuter service to Norwich.

The latter could involve MNR stock, with the preserved railway paying Railtrack for access or the train operating company running its Sprinters to and from Dereham and paying access charges to the MNR. The town of Wymondham, on the Norwich-Peterborough main line, will also benefit, with more trains likely to call at its station.

Let us not forget narrow-gauge preserved railways.

There is some opposition from ramblers to the extension of the Welsh Highland Railway through Snowdonia.

Yet this could reduce the number of tourist cars in the area; and why should not visitors, on foot, or on two wheels, use the steam train to take them up into the mountains?

I speak as one who, in my younger days, cycled over the top of the German Harz mountains and, in recent years, has used the metre-gauge steam trains of the Trans-Harz Railway to take me and my machine up to the plateau.

Given enterprise and imagination, with support from planning authorities, tourist boards and other influential bodies, there is plenty of scope for preserved railways to play a varied role, integrated with the rest of the network.

Our Reopenings and New Railways Committee, and especially our Preserved Railways Liaison Officer Chris Bentley, seek to assist that process.

Note: contact details (postal and email addresses, along with telephone numbers) in old editions of Railwatch out of date. Click CONTACT US for latest contact details.

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