I hope that it’s not tempting fate, but it feels as though Covid has moved from a national emergency to being part of the day-to-day. Certainly, our customers have been happy with the measures still in place which are prudent but not restrictive, enabling people to enjoy their day. There’s no doubt that the fresh air of Kent – particularly at Dungeness, which can be very fresh – has been a helpful factor.
September has come very close to being like September 2019 in terms of passenger numbers. This has put a great deal of pressure on the railway team but they responded very well, maintaining the cheerful and friendly welcome that is the hallmark of a Romney experience. There were some big events in the month too. Firstly Black Prince, our most powerful steam loco, was re-introduced to service following its overhaul. She has settled in well and all our drivers are getting to know and love her once more.
We also had a hugely successful bus rally, where 29 owners of vintage buses brought their cherished vehicles to our railway for the day and had beautiful sunshine.
September was also notable for an event that was not apparent to customers, but vital for the railway’s future. After months of investigation and preparation a proposal was put to shareholders to change the structure of the company. At present the company is a PLC – a structure that was vital in the resurgence of the railway from a low point in the 1970’s but is not the best structure for the 21st century. Shareholders gave their approval to change the company to a Community Benefit Society. This has many benefits, one of which is an improved ability to raise funds for development projects through share sales. With the 100th anniversary approaching in 2027 we will have a strong foundation from which to take the railway forward for the next 100. The next steps are to secure regulatory approval for the change, complete all the documentation that is needed and make any necessary adjustments to our internal processes and trading arrangements. It’s not glamorous work but it will enable us to step more confidently into the future. Meanwhile the winter approaches and the timetable reduces. That gives us the opportunity to catch up on Driver Experiences that had to be postponed in 2020 owing to Covid precautions and we are looking forward to Santa Specials and the winter programme of works. On a personal note, I’ll be giving an online PWI presentation ‘Engineering the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway’ at 14.30 on Tuesday 9th November. For details see https://www.thepwi.org/calendar/event/view?id=1391 If you can’t make the live event you can catch up on YouTube. I’ll post the link in my December update.