'Whistle Blower' is the newsletter that is produced for Avon Valley Railway working members.  For more information on 'Whistle Blower' - Click Here.

'Whistle Blower' Editorial - August 2004

OK. OK. OK. OK. It's been a while since the last edition of Whistleblower. Apologies to everyone, as this newsletter was started with a view to keeping you informed as quickly as possible about the latest news and who's doing what. The explanation for the delay is that, shortly after the last issue of Whistleblower, 'Semaphore' required a good deal of last minute effort, which coincided with organising and publicising the opening of Avon Riverside, plus the extra work involved in operating a more extensive timetable. This meant that all the Trustees and Directors found it difficult to add extra time to their already busy workloads to write reports on their Departments. It's not that there was nothing happening - more that we were all too busy doing it to report it!!

Excuses over, we hope that you liked the new look Semaphore. From the feedback we've received, the reaction has been very positive, with comments such as "it looks very professional, which reacts well on the image of the railway" and "better than anything I've seen from any other railway".

Speaking of good reaction, since the opening of Avon Riverside, passengers have been praising the railway, particularly when a boat trip was added to their train ride. The opportunity to leave the train and come back on a later service is still a surprise to many, but the consistent reaction seems to be "I'm going to come back and bring my friends too". An example is a recent conversation I had with a family which included children, parents and grandchildren. "A brilliant day out" was their reaction on leaving the train. "It was a totally idyllic day". Would they come and see us again? "Absolutely - we're going to ask our friends to come with us". Congratulations to everyone for making our visitors feel so welcome.

As a continuation of this theme - a big thank-you to the crew of the 12.15 to Avon Riverside on Sunday 8th August (guard Ollie, plus footplate crew Clive Wilson and Chris Williams, RO Chris Frid and TTI Anthony Franklin). The Bristol Evening Post were kind enough to send along a photographer to take a picture promoting the fact that boat trips were now available. To get the shot we all wanted, the train needed to be on the bridge with the boat below. In real life, of course, it only takes a few seconds for the train to cross. So, with the help of the passengers (who all agreed to de-train at Avon Riverside for a few minutes), the train ran forward and sat on the bridge while the pictures were taken, before returning backwards to Riverside to collect its passengers. All safety procedures were obeyed and the pictures promised to be very good indeed. It was a valuable opportunity for a piece of promotion and everyone played their part with professionalism and good humour. Thanks again to all concerned.

Stuart Hobday.

The Evening Post picture taken as described above.

'Whistle Blower' Editorial - March 2004

The Trustees can now announce that, following the Railway Inspectorate's visit on Thursday 4th March, Her Majesty’s Railway Inspector has given his approval for trains to use the new extension through, to and including the platform Avon Riverside. This was subject to the following work being undertaken to complete the project :

* the tamacing of the platform and public crossing,

* the remaining ballasting and tamping finished,

* the remaining fence work also to be completed and

* the parapet fence, for safety reason, to be extended slightly on the south side of the bridge. Again, for safety reasons, he suggested that the agricultural gate be locked and the public warning signs be made secure.

He also suggested that station name signs are fitted – something which was already in preparation. Once this list of tasks has been finished, which is now almost complete, the Railway Inspectorate will issue a Certificate of Approval.

The visit lasted for about three hours, during which time the Inspector, David Keay, complimented the Railway on the work which had been done.   He said that he was impressed with the quality of the project and that it was obvious that a good deal of time, money and thought had been spent on it.

There was a degree of nail-biting going on as the day approached. Work continued in all weathers at Avon Riverside. The platform edge slabs were all fitted and, over the last few days, so were the pedestrian gates and the farm crossing gates. Clearance trials were carried out on Saturday 27th Jan when signs and Arris rails were also fitted to prevent trespass onto the track from the crossing.

That was the result of the inspector’s visit. However, it is only part of the story.

Back in July of last year, out of the blue we were contacted by the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) who had become aware that we had previously obtained a Transport and Works Order for the extension. Their letter explained that we would now need a licence exemption from them before we could run a service.

This was the first contact we had ever had with the ORR. Bob Hitchings, our Chairman, immediately made contact by telephone and it was confirmed to him that we would require a licence exemption. All that was needed was for the relevant forms to be submitted to the ORR when a completion date for the extension was known. We were left with the firm impression that a licence exemption would be issued once the work had been passed by Her Majes ty’s Railway Inspectorate.

Two calls were made to the ORR in the following months and the Railway was told there was no urgency to apply at that time. We had been told that it would take a minimum of sixteen weeks to process the application and, by December, time was getting short to comply with this time scale.

The ORR were again contacted and the Railway was told to send in the application forms after Christmas. This was done on 15th January. There followed two or three calls/e-mails from the ORR for further information. After the visit by HMRI on March 4th, and his approval of the works, we immediately contacted the ORR to pass on the HMRI’s verdict, and to request the relevant licence exemption to begin passenger services at Easter.

At this point the ORR explained the full impact of the legislative procedure.

Despite the fact that the extension and platform had now been passed as safe to use by the HMRI we were told that the date of our application would have to be considered to be mid-February (not 15th January), as that was the date when the ORR received a reply to their last request for information. Furthermore, on top of the sixteen week processing period, we were then told that :

“…..before a licence or licence exemption can be granted, we must undergo a minimum 28-day statutory consultation period. This consultation cannot begin until we are satisfied as to the fitness of your operation, and have some certainty that your Safety Case will be accepted in good time”.

In effect, this lengthy process in applying for exemption is to make sure that:-

a) we don’t connect to any main line operation

b) we don’t impinge in any way on network operations and

c) no-one else wants to run a service on that stretch of track

This might sound like heavy bureaucracy – but it conforms with the Railways Act 1993 which refers to Railway “Assets” - and, in this case, that means Heritage Railways like ours!

The primary concern of the ORR is obviously with network operations and operators – and these operating companies have to make a case to support their bid to operate on the rail network. Only fair we would all agree, as they are running a multi-million pound public transport service.   However, the regulations as written also apply to our own “new network”- that is our 350 metre extension. That’s right – 350 metres!!! The existing Avon Valley Railway is already exempt from the regulations.

On realising the full importance of this information, Bob Hitchings immediately sent a well argued letter to the ORR explaining the history of the situation, the fact that we had been guided by the ORR and had done everything which they had requested in the time scale recommended by their office. Bob then asked that the ORR allow us to operate at Easter and issue the licence exemption retrospectively. This seemed an ideal compromise, but unfortunately it was pointed out that this is not allowed under the Railways Act.

Faced with the possibility of legal proceedings if we opened without a licence exemption, the Avon Valley Railway has decided to postpone the Easter opening of Avon Riverside in anticipation that the ORR will have completed their procedure by 28th April.

It is hoped therefore that the opening will be re-arranged for 1st May.

Whilst we find this very disappointing and extremely frustrating, the Avon Valley Railway does not wish to expose itself or its members to legal proceedings. We hope that the general public will understand our actions in complying with the bureaucratic process.

On another Trust matter, the negotiation with South Gloucestershire Council on the new lease has now reached the heads of agreement stage. This is to enable the Trust to consider the Council’s offer of a 99-year lease period and a concessionary rent

Stuart Hobday.

'Whistle Blower' Editorial - February 2004

The recent much heralded cold snap finally arrived and, fortunately, left most of its burden of snow further up country. However this emphasised how much we have benefited from mild weather so far in the work at Avon Riverside and how easily a change in the weather could cause a serious delay to the project. At the moment work is on schedule – just – but a few extra helping hands could make the difference between an April or May opening. If you have the time to offer, please talk to Bob Hitchings.

HTV paid a visit towards the end of January and filmed the developments at Avon Riverside. The reporter/cameraman was impressed with what he saw and promised to return when the station opened. Thanks are due to some of the mid-week gang who volunteered to act as extras and throw earth into a trench for the benefit of the camera (see report from mid-week gang for a more accurate description). It was fascinating for many involved to travel over the bridge (albeit slowly) for the first time and pull into the new but unfinished platform. A real taste of things to come.

Stuart Hobday.

'Whistle Blower' Editorial - January 2004

Christmas is finally over for another year and despite the long days and dark nights, as David Cole notes, it was all well worth the effort.

Congratulations come from all departments to everyone who helped to make December such a success. As it doesn’t come under any of the obvious departmental sections, I’d personally like to take this opportunity to thank all those who helped in the car park. As far as I know, it was the first year that congratulations and thanks were expressed regarding the car parking by some of our customers. And thanks too to the vast majority of volunteers who made our job that much easier by parking their vehicles elsewhere. Next year we are asking Santa to bring a bigger car park with him!!!!

So, just when you thought it was safe to put your feet up for a few weeks, you open up that brand new diary and realise that Easter isn’t too far away. For the Railway, Easter means Avon Riverside – and all that entails. New station, new timetable, new challenges; and, with the opening of the new platform, we can look forward to plenty of local publicity.

If ever there was a time for the Avon Valley Railway to capitalise on this and show what an interesting and welcoming place it is, it will be in the weeks leading up to and following the opening of Avon Riverside. Anyone who has been to America and sampled any of their visitor attractions knows how well you are treated and how welcoming the staff are. Ok, it’s something of an act, but at the same time it’s done with genuine enthusiasm. That’s because they know that, if the visitors go away happy, they’ll tell their friends - who’ll want to visit too!

Whilst not everything American is to be recommended, this is one area where British entertainment centres can learn a valuable lesson. It has already started in some, so let’s be amongst the leaders.

You have four months to practise your smiles of welcome ……

Stuart Hobday.

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This page last updated by Tony Wray on 14/8/2004.