The challenges of operating preserved steam locomotives on the main line in the 21st century

The challenges of operating preserved steam locomotives on the main line in the 21st century
Cedric Spiller
For our last meeting of the season we were pleased to invite Cedric Spiller, former BRB Chief Officer and latterly very heavily involved in the running of UK mainline steam specials to talk about the future, if any, of operating in the new environment of electrified high speed lines.
He began by outlining the history of steam operation which officially ended on August 11th 1968. But by 1971, Peter Prior, the Chairman of Bulmer’s Cider had negotiated a trial special with 4-6-0 King George V on an exhibition train. This opened the flood gates and since then there has been an ever-increasing number of steam specials operating over the entire network of Network Rail, thanks to the open access agreement in the privatisation Act.
There are currently three marketing companies all utilising the services of two ‘safety case’ approved operators. These operators provide rolling stock and crews. Locomotives are supplied by either societies, rich individuals or loaned by the National Railway Museum.
The nub of the talk was to examine what happens in the future. Areas covered included:-
 The age of locos, some over 75 years old.
 The high cost of loco maintenance
 The high cost of coal and water
 The age profile of the crews (over a mean of 60)
 The possibly diminishing market (predominantly over 55)
 The increasing attraction of diesels to those who chased trains in the 70s and 80s
 The demands on support crews with all the attendant Health and Safety requirements
 The state of Mark 1 carriages built in the 1950s which are vacuum braked and therefore cannot be used with modern air braked diesels
 The law that requires no loco to go over 75mph
 The demands of the modern electrified railway where line speeds are consistently at 125mph
 The lack of pathways to allow such charters to run
 Some attitudes in the hierarchies of Network Rail that are definitely anti-steam
So to the future; the view is that steam will survive but over specially selected routes such as the Settle –Carlisle, York-Scarborough, Birmingham-Worcester, Bristol-Weymouth, Whitby-Middlesbrough, Cumbrian Coast, and Carnforth-Hellifield. All these are in close proximity to stabling and servicing centres.
Costs will rise, the market will change, rolling stock will have to be dual-braked (which means no windows opened!) and locos will occasionally fail. More and more locos will not seek main-line approval due to the high costs of compliance to the modern railway’s systems and procedures.
Answering questions Cedric was adamant that signalling was not a problem. It was like veteran cars that were akin to “old ladies” yet there are plenty of roads where they can go. Steam engines to some are an anachronism. But the British public still love them!
Derek Webb