Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Comment: Charter Expectations

Many within the hobby, and indeed outside, enjoy the opportunity to travel by special charter trains. They can offer the chance to travel over interesting or 'rare' track, behind steam or heritage locomotives, in traditional rolling stock, or a pleasant day out often with full dining services being offered.
The charter market has suffered some ups and downs in recent times, but always seem so to re-surge with a quality product for those who enjoy these trips. 
I can't say that I travel on a huge number of charters- usually just a handful each year, but I almost always have a good day out. One promoter which I travel with, and almost always sing the praises of is UK Railtours. They run regular trips and really know what they are doing. They offer good value days out usually with sensible itineraries and reasonable start/finish times. The company is professional and always provides great service- in short, their trains deliver exactly what they say they will. 
Last weekend I travelled on UK Railtours 'Alpine Sunbeam'- a charter mostly aimed at enthusiasts with class 73's at the helm and a handful of unusual routes. As usual, the company deliver what it said it would (With the exception of the Newhaven Marine branch which was unaccessible and out of UK Railtours control). However the trip did fall slightly short of what I would expect from an enthusiast tour with the class 73's so far from my seat that I could neither hear or see them, the locomotives being off the end of almost every platform the train stopped at, and the lack of breaks during the trip (the only break being for half an hour at 11am).
At just gone 20:00, passengers of the 'Alpine Sunbeam' finally get a chance to see and photograph the locomotives, 73136
and 73128 which have been hauling the charter all day. The tour is now over and the locos have been shut down.
There were no other opportunities during the day to see the 73's because of short platforms and very limited stops during the day.
This got me thinking- what reasonable requirements do I have, or even expect from a heritage traction tour? 
I think all tours should, wherever possible, offer the following:
- Comfortable seating
- A hot food service in all classes
- Sensible start times from main stations
- At least one break of a decent length (minimum one hour- with time to leave the station)
- A chance for passengers to stretch their legs- ideally a short break every 4-5 hours as this is quite long enough to be sitting in one place for.
In addition if the main selling point of the tour is the traction:
- There should be a good opportunity for tour participants to see and photograph the locomotives during the day.
- The locomotive should get a chance to work at both ends of the train to give both standard and 1st class passengers a chance to hear and experience it working. 
Charity Railtours 'Four Triangles' tour suffered a loco failure which resulted in a loco swap and a lot of shunting during an extended
stop at Norwich. While this was unplanned and caused delays for the rest of the day- could a loco swap be a feature which could be
scheduled into future tours offering extra traction and an opportunity to view the engines hauling the tour?
I understand that providing everything on my 'wish list' may not always be possible. By virtue of some longer trips early starts and late finishes cannot be avoided. Similarly having a locomotive work from both ends of the train requires run-round facilities to be available and the time to shunt the train.
Also of course trains need to run to their maximum length to make them viable which may often result in the train being longer than many platforms.
I had a thought about the 'Alpine Sunbeam'- how might some of these ideas hypothetically have been incorporated?
With it's sensible start and finish times, the tour could have perhaps been extended. Maybe a break in Brighton could have been added (the train traversed the Preston Park Curve/Brighton avoider in the early afternoon)? This could have given passengers a chance to get off the train and have, say, 90 minutes in Brighton. During this time the stock could, perhaps, have run into Lovers Walk Depot for a double run round. Of course this would also have given passengers a chance to see the locomotives as well- before the tour was over.

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