Never mind all these on-off rail strikes, overcrowded trains and signal failures. One rail operator has not only achieved a record turnover, it is diversifying into new business areas and winning contracts – in steam.
The Severn Valley Railway (SVR) had a £6.25 million turnover last year and carried almost 250,000 passengers 16 miles on its lovely old steam trains through Worcestershire and Shropshire. Now, in its 40th year, it has secured a £100,000 contract to build a boiler for a locomotive on another steam railway, the Talyllyn Railway in Wales – a “big coup” for the SVR, according to its foreman.
So is this the beginning of a new age of steam, complete with modern ideas of diversification and outsourcing? As an industry reliant on defunct technology, it has had to come up with innovative ways to survive. This seems to be paying off in Scotland at least, where steam is on the way to becoming big business. The Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway has been recently extended by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society and an army of volunteers. The Strathspey Steam Railway is also most of the way through an overhaul, although enthusiasts still need £5 million to finish off the project.
Perhaps the SVR could consider taking its forward-thinking ways to Network Rail and put in a tender for the East Coast Main Line.