Expensive safety rules threaten to sideline historic steam train tours

A Stanier Black Five engine on an SRPS tour from Linlithgow to Tweedbank. Picture: Keith Sanders
A Stanier Black Five engine on an SRPS tour from Linlithgow to Tweedbank. Picture: Keith Sanders
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Steam-hauled and historic trains face an uncertain future on the rail network because of new safety regulations which some operators have said would cost millions of pounds to implement.

The Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS), the country’s main tour firm, fears for its fleet of coaches, which date back 60 years.

They will have to pass structural integrity tests, and have central locking and window opening restrictions fitted within four years. The deadline has been imposed by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) regulator to improve the safety of vintage carriages using the mainline network. Heritage lines are not affected.

Tanks will also have to be fitted by next year so toilets do not flush on to the tracks.

SRPS Railtours ran trips hauled by the Flying Scotsman locomotive over the Forth Bridge in May and will operate further steam excursions over the crossing and on the Borders Railway on every Sunday next month.

There will be diesel-hauled excursions using SRPS’s 1950s and 1960s carriages to Inverness, Fort William and Stranraer in September.

Train manager Jim Paterson said: “Due to soon-to-be-applied legislation, we don’t know how long we can continue to do these tours, so anyone who wants to travel on a genuine 1960s steam train should do it sooner rather than later.

“After it’s gone, it’s gone.”

ORR railway safety deputy director Paul Appleton has told operators: “We want to continue to enable you to deliver tours. However, public expectation is that you deliver 2018 levels of safety and a 1950s experience.

“You don’t get a free pass just because you are operating historic vehicles.”

SRPS Railtours chairman James Robertson said it did not know how much remedial work would be required to its 14 carriages, or how much money would be needed.

He said: “We hope to ride through it, but it is a bit of an unknown. We will just have to see what the cost is.

“All carriages have to be shown to be safe to operate and their structural integrity verified, which will involve sections being stripped down.

“If we cannot get enough help, a hard decision might have to be made.”

Robertson said Network Rail would fund the toilet tanks, but the other costs would have to be found by the Bo’ness-based society.

West Coast Railways, which operates the Jacobite steam train between Fort William and Mallaig, said the cost of upgrading its carriages could force fare increases.

A spokesman said: “It is going to cost us millions.

“Some of our carriages are nearly 70 years old and just installing central locking will cost £20,000 for each of them.

“We will do everything in our power to avoid having to raise prices, but a final decision cannot be taken until we have worked out exactly how much it is going to cost us to bring in these measures.”

A Transport Scotland spokesman said: “We support heritage trains as they provide a boost to local and rural economies. We are in discussion with operators and Network Rail to understand the implications of the requirements.”