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Chairman’s Board Meeting Briefing September 2016

Chairman’s Board Meeting Briefing September 2016


The board has set up a ‘safety project group’ chaired by Geoff Pateman our governance director, comprising the Chairman, Vice Chairman, Finance director, Safety Audit director and general manger, in response to board and staff concerns over safety issues. Reporting directly to the Board and advising safety audit committee, it is undertaking a series of activities to identify safety related tasks and priorities to ensure we comply with our statutory responsibilities. A first phase action plan is to be completed by 31st December. The work includes a lesson-learned exercise over a tender coupling incident earlier in the year at Bishop’s Lydeard, the need for our Safety Management System to be updated, re-establishment of our rules committee, competencies training and certification, record-keeping, auditing, and an improved system for reporting and actioning of safety incidents.  The output of SPG is being shared with the Heritage Railway Association, Rail Accident Investigation Branch and the Office of Rail & Road, whose inspector Steve Turner has been invited and will attend the October Board to speak to us about safety. 

Minehead relay

The project to undertake a track relay at MInehead early in 2017 was approved, subject to remaining safety and project management plans meeting requirements. The closure of the area during the work will mean no services can run from Minehead for a period starting in January 2017, but will reopen by the start of the operating season in March. The possibility of some services to other parts of the line are being examined.

IT Strategy

The use of Microsoft Windows 365 and ‘Office’ software as the WSR company IT platform was confirmed, with a request for an action plan to be developed to ensure that company email and web services can be integrated to achieve this goal. 

Southern Gateway Project

A presentation was made to the board by Steve Williams our planning director, and John Baulch of Lacey, Hickie and Caley on the status of the plans for the ‘Southern Gateway project at Bishop’s Lydeard. This is an ambitious plan to develop the current site together with station farm land to give a vastly improved entry to the WSR at its southern terminus. The plans have been developed to encompass ideas around improved car parking, visitor centre, museums, visitor displays, restaurant café, as well as railway operational facilities. Ideas have been worked up to a concept phase, and costed at up to £18 million to achieve all the aims, but with the potential to proceed in phases. The next stage is to consider what planning permissions would be required, as well as how funding from sources such as Heritage Lottery funds could be accessed.  We have a second external consultant advising on possibilities for this.

The concept ideas have been shared with the railway family and local authorities in the Partnership Development Group and will be presented to our next stakeholder meeting on 29th October 2017, from 1.30pm at BL Community Hall.

In addition, Ric Auger presented an update on the temporary building that has been erected on the site to house key infrastructure engineering activities from when Brunel House lease ceases in Spring 2017. The building erection is now complete, with Ric and Andrew Young, IE manager holding an open event on 25th September so that everyone can view the building.

Budget Plans and process

Chris Bolt gave an update on the budget process for 2017 and the continuing challenge of achieving a balanced budget. An investment panel comprising some directors and general manager was confirmed as the method whereby the competing needs of the business would try to be balanced and recommendations coming back to board.

It was noted that the visit of Flying Scotsman to the WSR with a charter in late May 2017 could provide an interesting boost commercially, and furthermore we would be bidding for an opportunity to host the locomotive specifically operating on the WSR later in the summer.


The chairman has continued with his delegation to discuss with the WSRA how to keep moving forward cooperatively, together with relevant directors holding detailed meetings with trustees to explore the development plans that the WSRA will be submitting to their membership at the AGM on 22 October. A proposed PLC response to the plan was agreed by board, to be discussed with the WSRA at further detailed meetings. Although the PLC is not a member of WSRA, several individual directors are members. The PLC would not normally expect to input as a body to the WSRA AGM, but John Irven has been invited by Frank Courtney to consider doing this. The board fully supported this request by the chairman to be the delegated person allowed to speak on behalf of the PLC, aiming to support the meeting by updating on the PLC’s position once agreed with the WSRA.  Specific negotiations about the marketing, promotion and operation of the QB dining set becoming the responsibility of the PLC in 2017 at a suitable shared financial benefit are progressing very well and we hope to be able to finalise with the WSRA very shortly.

Commercial Report

An analysis of the financial performance of galas and special events, compared with standard operation was presented by the commercial director. An opportunity by adjusting timings and organisation of the events for improving returns has been identified, and proposals will be developed and discussed the relevant special event groups.

General Manager’s report

Although performance of special events has been below budget, catering, retail and scheduled services have been performing well. In August, our busiest month, we exceeded targets for passenger numbers and revenue. We are hoping for a good Autumn gala.

Kinlet Hall has now had to be sent away for repairs, and because of some issues with 7828 this also may have to be removed for some repair work. Plans are being defined for suitable replacements for 2017.

HR report.

At the HR committee meeting in October an update on progress over the issue of ‘culture’ will be considered again, and directors were asked for their inputs and thoughts. 

A key senior position will change in November. David Horton takes up his post as head of Mechanical Engineering.  As a Graduate in Mechanical Engineering from Imperial College, University of London, and a Chartered Engineer, David brings a wealth of experience and skills to the West Somerset Railway family from his career in the mainline UK railway industry.  He is currently working for Bombardier Transportation UK Ltd Derby, having previously been Operations Manager for the Thompson B1 Locomotive trust. In his voluntary roles he has also had an interest in, and involvement with, heritage steam projects.  David will take responsibility for supporting the General Manager in overseeing the delivery of operational rolling stock requirements for the WSR, and will also lead the mechanical engineering policy development in line with the WSR Board’s Corporate Plan, together with developing the long-term vision for mechanical engineering functions across the WSR family. David takes the helm from Andrew Forster, WSR’s present Chief Mechanical Engineer who is due to retire at the end of October 2016 after many years’ service to the Railway. Andrew has successfully led many Locomotive projects 9351, 7828 and 53808 with many others to his credit, and is assisting with the transition. I know everyone will be wishing Andy well on his upcoming retirement, and will welcome Dave to the railway.

The Plc is still seeking a replacement as HR Director to Geof Cox who stood down in this role in June.

Next board meeting

Is scheduled for 9.00 am Saturday 29th October, 2016.

All staff and stakeholders are warmly invited to the next stakeholder briefing meeting, to be held immediately after the board meeting at Bishop’s Lydeard Community Hall, Saturday 29th October at 13.30 for 14.00.


John Irven 9th October 2016

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