Aug 10 2008

Enforced changes at Southall Railway Centre

Published by at 11:28 am under GWRPG News

To members and shareholders from Bob Gorringe – August 2008

Members and Shareholders who have attended Southall recently either by joining in the activities of the working team or visiting as a member on our Open Days will be aware of the operational difficulties that we have been presented with by Network Rail. Less than two months before the expiry of the old lease we were informed that we would not receive a new lease, as promised, but would have to vacate our site because West Coast Railway Co Ltd, a private main line operator, needed the Wheel Drop Shop.

In essence we were given eight weeks to remove all our stock from Southall – clearly an impossible task. This came as a complete surprise, especially as we had achieved a good relationship with Network Rail and were expecting a further lease in line with other tenants on site, and our plans for developing the site and our operations had been based on this assumption.

Meetings with Network Rail to resolve the situation were initially unsuccessful. Even an approach to West Coast Railway proved to no avail, and consequently we needed to consider our options. Apart from the impact this would have on our programme of restoration work, mainly on William Murdoch, Birkenhead and the TSO carriage, the effect on our public Open Days was also a major item of concern.

Bearing in mind the extent of our holdings and the previous difficulties we experienced in finding an alternative site, we endeavoured to find a local solution to the problems presented to us.

A further approach to West Coast Railway suggesting that we link our activities to the benefit of both organisations was declined even though this was supported by Network Rail.

In the meantime it came apparent that any use of the Wheel Drop Shop by main line locomotives would require alteration to the existing track work due to the removal of the original head shunt which had been condemned due to poor condition of the track and the nearness of the main line. This in affect also trapped in our TSO coach, which is receiving a complete refurbishment, as well as other vehicles in sidings at the east end of the Wheel Drop Shop.

These track alterations have yet to commence but on completion we will be expected to vacate the building despite the new roller shutters and many other improvements made during our occupation.

In the circumstances due to the threat to the Group’s interests it has been necessary to call upon the services of our solicitors, N.C. Morris & Co.

Solution

We were very reluctant to move from Southall, given our 17 years there, our survival despite the previous problems experienced with Railtrack/Network Rail (thanks to the support of our many followers), and the possibilities the location offers. We have currently submitted a proposal to Network Rail for the use of the sidings on the south side of the site to which we hope to reach an early agreement. It is hoped to take occupancy shortly following the removal of loose plant and equipment currently lying in the area. It is also proposed that we retain the use of the Boiler House.

The area has potential and will also provide the facilities for our main aim. This however does depend on securing a lease, or alternative arrangements which will enable the development to take place.

If this does not happen the obvious consequence would be a major loss to London as a whole as well as the likely dispersal of the GWR Preservation Group collection around the country. In the meantime we would ask both those members already aware of the situation and those learning of the difficulties for the first time to continue giving your full support to the action we are proposing to bring about a satisfactory solution.

Vacation of Current Leased Area – Operational Considerations

In 2007 Network Rail withdrew the former head shunt facilities, so we are currently unable to move our stock from the Wheel Drop Shop until track work alterations planned by West Coast have been completed. Network Rail has also deemed the use of a crane so close to the main line power cables to be unsafe.

The Group needs to know the timetable for the track rearrangement, particularly the start and finish dates, so that we can be ready to move out, but we still await notification.

The rolling stock currently located within the open area can be moved at short notice to the 3 sidings on the south side of site. The area of is currently used for storage of building equipment and materials from Network Rail contracts but it is understood that these will be removed by 9th August. Subject only to clearance of overgrowth and any debris situated on the track we will then transfer our available stock to this area.

Until the track arrangement takes we will continue to use the Wheel Drop Shop to complete restoration work on Birkenhead and the TSO.

Conclusion

The Group will make every endeavour to resolve the current situation, and the support of members and shareholders will carry us through another difficult period to continue our aim of providing London with its only working steam location, open to the public, at Southall.

Bob Gorringe
Chairman

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