I read with interest Mr Coulson’s letter suggesting there should be concessionary fares for local people on North Yorkshire Moors Railway trains.
Although he may have seen a few empty coaches on the first couple of weeks of our daily operations, it is important to remember that, despite the weather, we have only recently entered spring and it always takes a little time for passenger numbers to build up at the start of the season. Were Mr Coulson to look at the trains this week for example he would see that they are carrying a lot of people into Whitby to enjoy all of the resort has to offer. In fact in the four years since we started operating steam trains to Whitby, the number of passengers has doubled to almost 100,000 - and this year for the first time we are running trains to Whitby on over 200 days.
When it comes to fares it is important to realise what we are - namely a tourist attraction attempting to recreate rail travel as it was in past generations. Running what is essentially a museum operation does not come cheap, and unlike the local franchise service, we get no ongoing external subsidy. In other words, we have to stand entirely on our own two feet and in the time of economic recession this is challenging enough.
For example, every steam engine has to be thoroughly overhauled at least every 10 years at a cost which can easily exceed half a million pounds. We need to have at least seven steam locomotives available to operate our complete timetable throughout the season. This of course is before we consider major renewals of bridges and other structures and other structures approaching the end of their economic life - your readers will I am sure readily see where the money goes.
True North Yorkshire County Council generously made a £300,000 grant towards the cost of rebuilding Bridge 30, without which we would have struggled to do this essential work. The grant reflected the vital importance of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway to the local economy, contributing as we do around £30 million every year.
Finally however, I have good news for Mr Coulson. We already offer a discount to local residents who hold one of th Esk Valley resident’s railcards that gives reduced travel, not only on our services, but also on the local Northern Rail services along the Esk Valley line from Whitby to Middlesbrough.
Philip Benham, General Manager, North Yorkshire Moors Railway