Rising costs and falling incomes are making it hard for freight-focused charter trains to operate. That’s the view of the Branch Line Society, a special interest group that organises tours and special trains all over the UK. One of their collaborators, who rely on the BLS for marketing and administration, may have already made their last run and put that down to the economic crisis. However, the Society say concerns over the future of forays onto freight-only lines are unfounded, and they’ll be running on regardless.
Last weekend’s rail tour around the main lines and side lines of England’s East Anglia may be the last for one traction provider, but it certainly won’t be the last excursion for the organisers, the Branch Line Society. While their diesel locomotive provider for the tour, Hanson and Hall, have said they’ll be concentrating on their core engineering logistics support business, that will not stop the BLS from taking advantage of the large enthusiast market and tapping into the desire to ride the rails in the more remote parts of the rail network.
Challenging times for rail tour operators
There is no doubt that the rising cost of living is hitting all aspects of life in Britain. Inflation is putting the brakes on all aspects of corporate and social life. It’s getting more expensive to run a railway at the same time as customers are thinking twice about where they spend their money. With belt-tightening in every household, the premium cost of charter train trips is forcing all but the most well-heeled enthusiasts to ration their excursions. That double whammy of rising costs and falling revenue is hitting the charter sector from both sides.
That has forced at least Hanson and Hall to do their sums, and the figures just don’t add up for them right now. “Any charter promoter will tell you that the current cost of living issues and ever-increasing operating costs are making it extremely challenging to continue with running enthusiast charters,” said the company. “You will have seen charters cancelled in recent months, as even covering costs becomes more tenuous. With every charter it is more challenging, and as maintenance and operating costs increase, booking levels are not at the levels wished for, no matter how unusual the destination or the track we traverse. This is not something that can be sustained.”
Hanson and Hall provided their class fifty diesel locomotive for the trip. The distinctive main line locomotive is part of a class, originally designed and delivered in the late 1960s for prestige express passenger work. Coincidentally, fifty examples were produced and around fifteen remain, of which Hanson and Hall operate the only one still in commercial hands.
However, enthusiasts, who value the opportunity to ride behind unusual and rare traction, have over a dozen examples of the class from which to choose. All of them are in various stages of preservation, and most are in running order. The BLS have another tour behind two examples of the class later this month. “The Branch Line Society do recognise that these are challenging times for rail tour operators, with rising costs playing a part in this,” said a spokesperson. “Although costs are rising, we continue to look for added value and differentiation to mitigate.”