Railway feud erupts into bitter scenes

A BITTER feud has broken out between two neighbouring railway preservation societies over a remote, disused junction.

A behind-the-scenes row involving the Waverley Railway Heritage Association [WRHA] and the Friends of Riccarton Junction [FRJ] had already featured expulsion, claims of membership poaching and allegations of territory being annexed.

But when supporters of the two organisations came face to face at a remote location in the Scottish Borders, it was the cue for a tirade of verbal abuse and name-calling in the presence of about 40 witnesses.

The scene was the FRJ’s annual general meeting, chaired by Geoffrey Evison, a former railway guard, who was expelled from membership of WRHA last year. He was accused of verbally attacking another rail enthusiast during a telephone conversation and was dismissed for ungentlemanly conduct with no right of appeal.

The FRJ was formed six years ago with the stated aim of tidying up Riccarton Junction on the former Edinburgh-Carlisle line. But according to Mr Evison, disputes and divisions among FRJ members saw some of them break away to form WRHA.

The new association, led by Len Ashton, is based in Mr Ashton’s Signal Box Cottage home at Whitrope, less than three miles from Riccarton. WRHA is already involved in several projects, including restoration of two elderly railway carriages to be used as a visitor centre at Whitrope.

The festering row came to a head when, according to Mr Evison, a sizeable group of WRHA supporters turned up for the "Friends" meeting only hours after taking out membership of FRJ.

"They were hell-bent on voting me and my committee out of office so that they could take over the whole show," declared Mr Evison, who admitted losing his temper and indulging in "a lot of shouting and swearing".

He said: "They deliberately set out to wind me up, and at one point I told Mr Ashton he would be better to go home to Whitrope, pack his bags, sell his property and go back to Liverpool where he belongs.

"I allowed him to address our meeting, and he spoke like an extreme left-wing trade unionist, rather than chairman of a railway heritage society." Mr Evison accuses WRHA of setting up projects at Riccarton, including restoration of the stationmaster’s house, when FRJ already has such a scheme in mind. He said: "The weekend meeting heard claims that Riccarton was now in a worse state than when we were formed six years ago, and the integrity of our book-keeping was also challenged.

"The Rev Kevin Price, our secretary and treasurer, was so disgusted he left the meeting and returned home to Kendal. I suspended the AGM as soon as I realised what Mr Ashton and his cronies were trying to achieve."

Mr Ashton told The Scotsman many of those present at the FRJ meeting had been sickened by Mr Evison’s "performance", and there had been warnings that his conduct could inflict serious damage on the railway preservation movement.

"As a heritage society, this is the last kind of publicity we need when we are applying for grants and trying to get more people involved. WRHA is a professionally run organisation which has been successful in having a number of important structures on the line listed and protected," he said.