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Letter from the Chair - July 2023

Last month I ended with engineering so this month, for a change, I’ll start with that topic.

June was a challenging month for the railway’s assets with some very high temperatures. As always with track, it’s the work that you do in the winter that gives you your summer performance. I’m pleased to say that the winter campaign of relaying, rail adjusting and anchoring meant that we had very few track alignment challenges during the very hot weather. Anything that did happen, happened in an area that we knew was higher risk and was being carefully monitored. The signalling and control equipment performed reliably so the result was a good service for our customers.

Unfortunately – and despite the dedicated efforts of the team – we had a challenging month on the motive power front. Our one remaining diesel, No. 12 J. B. Snell, suffered a mechanical failure which will necessitate a replacement engine. That’s not a simple or quick task and it means that we will be entirely reliant on steam traction for our revenue earning services through the start of the summer peak. On the steam front too, things are challenging. We have three locomotives out for overhaul (Nos. 7, 8 & 9) and a difficult to trace fault on No. 11 Black Prince. As a result, we are down to just six locomotives to run a service that needs five. An uncomfortably small margin.

However, on services, we’ve had a very successful month. The visit from Paddington Bear that took place on Saturday June 24th really brought in the families. We ran five special trains from Hythe, all of which were full of excited children – and quite a lot of excited adults too. It was a very warm day, not ideal for a bear in a duffel coat! Our next ‘character’ event is a visit from Bluey and Bingo on the weekend of the 16th/17th September. We will be running ten special trains over the two days, five of which are fully booked already which is excellent news.

We are at a nervous time of the year, in common with many other leisure and tourism businesses. Revenue this year has held up well despite the chilly economic wind blowing through the UK. However, the summer peak season will soon be upon us and no-one knows what that will bring. I’m confident that our team will be friendly and welcoming and we will give people a great day out. Their efforts deserve the reward of strong customer support. That will enable us to develop the railway for our future customers, but there are no guarantees.

One of the team’s great strengths is resilience. Whatever this year’s revenue result, we are well placed to take the business forward. The only question is the pace of that forward progression and only time will give us the answer to that. Expect news on that front in the November post.

David Packer Chair of the RH&DR Board www.rhdr.org.uk

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