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Wensleydale Railway - Northallerton West

Discussion in 'Heritage railways & Centres in the Uk' started by s1m0nad, Nov 10, 2014.

  1. Sawdust

    Sawdust Member

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    I know of another long establish railway that had a close brush with a developer, who kept their true intentions hidden.

    While the person concerned maybe honourable there is no guarantee.

    Sawdust.
     
  2. Tim Light

    Tim Light Active Member

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    People have every right to be cautious, but let's suppose that this bidder is genuine in his desire to create a through railway between Northallerton and Hawes. What would be the objection? The WR are clearly struggling to even survive at the moment.

    You can ask ... why doesn't the bidder just donate the money to the WR? Well maybe he doesn't have sufficient confidence that he's not putting his money in a black hole. This way he gets to secure Aysgarth and can start to extend east or west regardless of the fortunes of the WR.

    You can also ask ... if WR members have the funds to purchase Aysgarth, why wait until now? And why not work WITH the bidder to develop the railway?

    Not that any of this is my business ... I'm just puzzled that something that looks like a gift horse is meeting so much hostility.
     
  3. Sawdust

    Sawdust Member

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    If he is genuine he would willingly give undertakings to resell it back to the railway that are watertight.

    When it comes to gift horses, this Yorkshireman's motto is that if something seems to good too be true then it probably isn't.

    Sawdust.
     
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  4. AndyY

    AndyY New Member

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    That gift horse could well be a Trojan horse.................
    The stakes are just too high to gamble. If he really has the interest of the railway at heart he would willingly offer running rights. If profit can be made at Aysgarth much better it should go into the railway's coffers. An independent charity closely aligned to the railway, solely concerned with the Aysgarth site, might well be a way forward to raising funds to buy it.

    Andy
     
  5. Sawdust

    Sawdust Member

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    The national park, councils and welcome to Yorkshire should all be alarmed!

    Sawdust.
     
  6. FearOfManchester

    FearOfManchester New Member

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    Remembering the teifi valley, signing away assets to someone promising riches and success is a dangerous notion. Putting the site in trust is an important step to minimise risks.
     
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  7. 35B

    35B Part of the furniture

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    It's the lack of undertakings that makes me dubious.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
     
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  8. DisusedBranch

    DisusedBranch Active Member

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    I had forgotten about the Teifi Valley saga and I recommend anyone on this forum read that entire thread. It's a long read, but an eye-opening one.

    While it's not fair to tar everyone with the same brush, I do hope that the WR puts in appropriate safeguards, should this apparent gift horse be one that it turns out to be not what it seems.
     
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  9. Bean-counter

    Bean-counter Part of the furniture

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    Knowing various people involved with the Wensleydale, while not being at all involved myself, I have been hesitant to comment, especially as I have not discussed the issue with any of my WR involved friends!

    BUT selling assets to provide short term cash never seems a great idea to me - no matter how benevolent the buyer. You can't expect the buyer to sell it back if times improve at what they paid you - and, no matter how great the discount you may get on such repurchase. Hence, if it has gone, it is probably gone for ever - or only returns at a considerable cost!

    From a financial point of view, my understanding was that Aysgarth Station is a holiday cottage let by the WR plc. Hence, it does generate income. How that income compares with the loan repayments and interest costs each year, I don't know - the last accounts filed by WR plc at Companies House showed total rental income (and furnished holiday letting is not technically the same as normal rental income) which would exceed the annual payments on the loan, but I doubt if this would all be from Aysgarth Station. I can't easily find the rates charged on the web, but the privately owned Spennithorne Station is available for over £750 per week in September (and the fact it is available may say something about the price!)

    Hence, it would seem that the WR are losing some income, though that will not all be profit, and probably doesn't cover the loan payments, and perhaps just as seriously, is weakening their Balance Sheet by selling an asset with net equity in it. OK, so they will get cash but about half will go on clearing the bank loan (and hence providing no net effect on the overall value of the Company) and the rest will presumably be required for expenditure, which may or may not be 'capital' but will almost certainly not be a readily identifiable (or potentially saleable) asset like the Station site.

    On the other hand, if, as I suspect, that expenditure will enable service to resume to Northallerton West, then the business case for being able to run a longer service to a new location may well mean this is seen as worth far more to the Railway.

    It is certainly a situation I think the WR plc shareholders need to think very carefully about. They also need to make sure that they are not 'scared' into selling because it would get rid of debt - for those not used to business, be they ordinary shareholders or directors, the presence of debt can be very worrying even when the business has no issue servicing it.

    Steven
     
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  10. Forestpines

    Forestpines Member

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    As an outsider this all smells a bit fishy partly because it is difficult to think of a precedent: has any railway ever succeeded in opening services along a particular stretch of line, by starting off by selling that line off to a third party? Normally trackbed consolidation is seen as the vital first step - look at the L&B for an oncoming example - and any hint that a business is selling off assets which would appear to be required for its stated aims is a very bad sign.

    If they are receiving income from Aysgarth station and are not making money on it overall, it seems as if something is very wrong somewhere. If the railway's staff don't have the skill set to make it profitable as it stands, why not see if it can be leased out long-term at a rate which will give the railway a guaranteed income? If the railway needs this cash windfall to survive, how will it keep surviving when the windfall is spent?
     
  11. 35B

    35B Part of the furniture

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    The precedent that comes to mind is in Staffordshire, and isn't especially encouraging. Bear in mind that the Wensleydale has a particular challenge around the flashing lights on the level crossings at the Northallerton end of the line, and some big costs to go with that.
     
  12. Railboy

    Railboy New Member

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  13. Rosedale

    Rosedale Member

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    Didn't the NYMR sell part of its trackbed to the County Council back in the 70s (with a very long leaseback arrangement), or am I misremembering?
     
  14. AndyY

    AndyY New Member

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    Whether they did or not, that's entirely different to the situation here, which could potentially stop any extension of the railway to and beyond Aysgarth dead in its tracks, if you'll excuse the pun.
     
  15. Bean-counter

    Bean-counter Part of the furniture

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    It was the track from Summit to Pickering Station that was owned by NYCC, with the Railway buying it on a 'Hire Purchase' type arrangement, the last payment being made in the early 1990s.

    I was told by founder Charlie Hart that the NYMR Preservation Society felt it could only afford Grosmont to Summit complete railway and then trackbed and buildings Pickering. Some members considered this was insufficient (remember only the unextended Bluebell and KWVR of ex-BR lines were operating then, so this view was quite radical) and approached Charlie, who was the Fund Raising Officer then and for many, many years after, and he said to them 'if you think we should go for more, then say so!' - 'make your views known' was always Charlie's view and don't let those who oppose you win by you packing in! The upshot of this was NYCC (probably still NRCC actually at that point!) buying the track to enable the 18 miles to be retained intact (as a single line - 2/3 was double when closed) and largely be opened from Day 1 of public operations.

    Charlie said it was reported that ramblers had Summit to Pickering in view for a path, and complained to the County Council that they didn't want steam trains getting in the way so the Council said it would buy the track, the railway was bound to fail and then it was a in a good position to get the trackbed as a path! Don't know how true that was, or which party the purchase was in reality a sop to!

    Fast forward a couple of decades, and Charlie's fellow founder Tom Robertson, retired Whitby Station Master, was interviewed on Radio York about setting up a heritage railway when the Wensleydale first started. Tom made the point that, ideally, a Railway should go from 'somewhere to somewhere, and Castle Hills Junction to Redmire Quarry isn't somewhere to somewhere' (which the NYMR only really has done since extending to Whitby) - extending to Aysgarth and operating from just off the A1 into the National Park could be definitely seen as 'somewhere accessible to somewhere'.

    What I can't understand is why the Wensleydale hasn't turned to its members and shareholders for financial support - if they wanted to keep the serious financial situation quiet, they have failed but it is the secrecy that seems odd, as referred to in the report linked to above by @Railboy (and it is also the front page headline and subject of the editorial in The Northern Echo's weekly sister paper, The Darlington and Stockton Times.

    Great guys, both Charlie and Tom - sadly missed!

    Steven
     
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  16. David R

    David R Active Member

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    I thought the National Park Authority was involved as a way of financing the purchase of the line from BR

    David R
     
  17. Sawdust

    Sawdust Member

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    No, it was the county council as Steven outlines above.

    Sawdust.
     
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  18. Sawdust

    Sawdust Member

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    Firstly the upset felt by those in the PLC, by the leaking of their letter is more I suspect because their attempt to ambush their supporters with the proposals have failed. A fine case of how dare anybody question my plan, of ever I saw one.

    Secondly, compare the WR and Aysgarth to what other railways are achieving or have achieved, eg Broadway, Broomhill, NYMR lottery grant, GCR gap bridging and so on.

    I'm sure if they had gone about seeking support to build their extension to Aysgarth in the right way, they would gain support from new areas.

    I do wonder if there isn't an element there that doesn't want to become a big railway.

    Sawdust
     
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  19. AndyY

    AndyY New Member

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    My view is that if the railway doesn't get to Aysgarth (and hopefully further in the fullness of time), and become a railway with a clear and worthwhile destination, then it has a limited future. It's all very well not wanting to become a 'big railway', but it has to go to somewhere worth going.

    Andy
     
  20. Bean-counter

    Bean-counter Part of the furniture

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    Would like to 'like' this more than once!

    Having spoken over the last 18 months to a number of people involved with the WR at various levels, I have a feeling the organisation risks being somewhat at the 'panic' point.

    The infrastructure of the existing line is not in a good way, they have had a number of infrastructure problems to overcome, then the Northallerton extension spent a long period shut because of infrastructure issues, reopened and within a few days was shut again by after the Dolly Lane accident, leading to the need to undertake work on various level crossings. (How worthwhile daily operating of the Leeming Bar to Northallerton section may be is another issue, but I sense it is still seen as 'the golden goose' by many on WR, perhaps due to the 'community railway' background of the project).

    I sense covering operational turns is always a challenge (in reality, it is probably bound to be in any similar organisation yet many persist in seeming to believe it 'should be easy' and beating themselves up when it isn't, creating a negative atmosphere that only discourages everyone and makes the job harder!), and I have certainly heard comments that Leeming Bar to Northallerton should be left shut and that Leeming Bar to Leyburn is quite sufficient and makes a perfectly acceptable and manageable railway (which is perhaps a wise short term way forward).

    The advice I gave one person I spoke to to was don't give up or let yourself get 'crushed' by the size of the task. I have been there - seeing for the first time a costed 10 year civil engineering programme, my initial reaction was 'who can we fund that' but calming words from older, wiser heads made me realise that the first requirement to achieve funding it was to actually try and not give up! Over a decade later, I was the 'older wiser head' trying to stop others from panicking and reassuring them that the funding needed to undertake major works was achievable, but required not taking the 'easy'/'let's not make life too difficult' options for operating the business (i.e. driving income and operating surpluses to cover renewals), and building on the amazing fund raising achievements that had brought us to that point (for funding major renewals, improvements and developments). Not sure my message was entirely welcome, because for some people, there seems to be a great reassurance in panicking and I know there can be something cathartic about having a bout of Pte. Frazer's 'We're doomed, doomed., doomed I tell thee' - but all organisations need a Captain Mainwearing to tell such 'Pte. Frazers' to 'Stop rolling your eyes' and get on with it!

    Selling off assets should be a last resort - perhaps it is, but it could also be a sign of despair, and the WR needs to take a long, steady and calm look at where they are and how to move forward. Perhaps greater 'vision', always difficult when you are amongst the 'mud and bullets' of daily life, might inspire supporters to provide the necessary financial input. When it was first set up, the WR plc raised an amazing sum through a share issue (over £2 million including shares purchased by the Trust), but the costs of such an issue now make them not a simple option. Still, there was plenty of support out there and they perhaps need to be bold in seeking funds to maintain their present asset base, and in formulating future plans that have clear objectives and a strong rational to enable them to explain where they want to be in say 5 years, 10 years etc. to supporters. These may well involve some short term reduction in operating length, but that should be acceptable to supporters if it is part of a longer term plan to further the original aims of extending the line.

    Steven
     
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