September was quite a month, helped by some absolutely glorious weather. It started with a very busy Bus Rally weekend. We were delighted that so many bus owners were happy to bring their cherished vehicles for others to enjoy. Not only could they be seen in the car park at New Romney, some were in service providing a free shuttle between New Romney and Dungeness.
With a completely different focus, Bluey and Bingo visited the RH&DR for the weekend in mid-September. Aimed at a young demographic, it was hugely popular, selling out well in advance of the event. Understanding your customer base is a vital skill for the railway’s team. Offering different products for different customers, but always with the railway at its heart, brings diverse income. Events like these also bring customer loyalty, bringing people back for other special events or just a great day out.
We also hosted an upscale dinner! Here you can see the End of the Line Restaurant decked out for the Dungeness Sunset Diner. Starting from New Romney at 18.30, the sold-out event was steam hauled – of course – and used several of our heritage carriages. The transformation from a high throughput restaurant to fine dining was something to behold. The marvellous service was, as always, testament to the flexibility of the railway’s team. It certainly felt like a different sort of day at the restaurant!
We are now in the middle of gearing up for our Autumn Gala on October 21st and 22nd. It will be an absolute bonanza of activity. It finishes on the Sunday evening with a special non-stop service from Dungeness to New Romney hauled by eight steam locomotives. Here’s the link to the timetables, the result of lots of hard work in the team pulling the plan together https://www.rhdr.org.uk/images/autumn-gala-2023-public-timetables-updated-03.10.2023.pdf With half-term holidays at the end of the month, it looks like being another busy one for the RH&DR!
Summer is here! Well, that’s what the calendar says but most people’s recent experience is that it has been feeling more like autumn. July and August are our peak season and also our peak revenue months. I’m sure that you will share my nervousness at the potential effect of poor weather on our results for the year. However, the team continues to deliver a marvellous day out for our visitors and maintains a cheerful front – even when it’s raining! We’ve had some good news and welcome relief from pressure on the operational front. Black Prince (No. 11) returned to service with a new vacuum brake cylinder fitted. That gives us seven operational steam locomotives to cover a service that needs five, so we feel as though we have a little breathing room at last.
Black Prince at Hythe in Late July On the diesel front there has been progress too. The power unit from Loco 14 has been sent away to specialist refurbishers so that it can be installed in Loco 12. Meanwhile, the team is renewing the electrical systems on No. 12 and checking all other areas. When the power unit returns later this month we will have a freshly overhauled diesel to be a mainstay of our traction fleet. Our infrastructure has held up very well in the summer weather. The track team has completed conversion of our fishplate oiling to Interflon. Not a small achievement with twenty track miles and over 5000 pairs of plates. Interflon is applied without complete removal of the plates and doesn’t need annual reapplication. The challenges of maintaining jointed track across the seasons remain, but we are confident that the track system is well understood and is under control. As we go through our peak season, all team members step up to give our visitors a great experience. That’s particularly true this year for our retail team. When our Retail Manager left us, several team members happily took on extra responsibilities to ensure that our service to customers kept to its usual high level. I’m grateful for their support and for the opportunity it gives us to recruit for the expanded role of Business Development Manager. In these challenging economic times, it’s vital that we have a clear focus on the whole customer experience and ways that we can enhance it. We will be recruiting in the autumn so that enhancements can be in place for the 2024 season. It’s always important to look forward.