After two very challenging years it feels as though we now have a clear way ahead – but still challenging! The Easter weekend service ran very well, marking what felt like a return to ‘business as usual’. The Saturday was particularly busy, breaking the Easter Saturday record. The challenges of lorry queues on the M20 following the suspension of P&O ferry services no doubt deterred some customers. Thankfully that seems to be behind us now.
Our provisional year-end numbers for the fifteen months to the end of March are now in. I’m pleased to say that, across the two Covid years, we expect to show a small but positive result. That’s testament to the hard work of the team to control costs and to using the government financial support wisely. We have a sound base from which to plan the development of the business. We have started work on projects for new non-steam motive power and for replacement of coaching stock. These had to be put on hold, understandably, until we were out the other side of Covid but now we have enlisted some external resource to move these projects on at a good pace.
At our April Board meeting we were very happy to review the progress that had been made on the winter programme of works. Risk assessments ensured that we have addressed the principal areas where rail creep is a challenge. We are also trialling enhanced rail fastenings to mitigate this feature of our jointed track. Half a mile of track was completely renewed from St Mary’s Bay to Golden Sands, continuing our annual programme of improvements. Several signal posts were replaced and LED conversion of any remaining incandescent lamps was carried out at the same time. We also made a start on replacing wig-wag heads at crossings, St Mary’s Road being the first. These suffer in our salty air and are starting to show their age. Finally, but vital for our customer experience, significant work has been carried out at all our catering outlets in anticipation of being able to return to ‘business as usual’. A good, refreshing break and the opportunity to buy a souvenir of the railway are a vital part of the visitor experience. No matter how good the trains are and how shiny the locos, good food and drink is just as important.
Black Prince waiting to depart Hythe on the first train, April 23rd. It was the day of our Board meeting. I had a good discussion with our volunteer driver about coal quality and how it affects loco performance – I learned a lot.