Highland Railway Heritage
the Plandampf Exercise
Railtrack and ScotRail agreed to let us operate a steam-hauled service, courtesy of West Coast Railways (who provided motive power and stock and manning), in place of the normal dmu service on 2 October between Fort William and Mallaig as part of last year's Highland Steam Festival, and the centenary celebrations to mark construction of the Mallaig Extension - by any standards a remarkable piece of civil engineering through spectacular scenery. An alternative bus service was also laid on as a precaution, to ensure 'ordinary' passengers could rely on making connections, though in practice this was seldom at risk.
This was generally well received and adjudged highly successful, and we are grateful to David Prescott of ScotRail for making it possible.
In fairness two caveats should be mentioned. Scotland did its best: the actual day was about as wet as they come! But without the rain it would not have been possible to capture on film the colours of the rainbow curving over the tender of a shining, sizzling steam engine at Glenfinnan. For the record the B1 and K1 locomotives performed splendidly throughout the day.
The other and more distressing one took us unawares - overcrowding! ScotRail had agreed not to book any coach parties that day, but somewhere along the line wires got crossed and shortly before the departure of the 12.05 ex Fort William 3 parties started to board the 4 carriages - already filling up with Plandampf Day Pass holders and regular ScotRail passengers - while another party was found to have booked for the 16.08 ex Mallaig. Our stewards did their best to resolve matters swiftly (some coach party members were persuaded to settle for alternative travel), and we could only apologise to those affected for this utterly unexpected hitch.
The timings released by Railtrack at the last minute appeared to allow excessive recovery time, which proved entirely unnecessary, but their caution may be understood for anything so novel in this country. We hope this experiment worked well enough, however, for it to be repeated another year - with outstanding success and even really fine weather.
One (to us) inexplicable feature of the day was the decision by David Prescott, no doubt for sound reasons of his own, not to advise local staff of the special arrangements until just beforehand. As a result they stood 'well clear' when we might have expected them to offer a bit more co-operation: we were after all giving them an easy day by looking after their customers as well as our own.
More generally, it is good to be able to report that Highland Rail Heritage, with over 4 years of successful operation under its belt and bringing a lot of extra business to the Highlands, is building a sound reputation and showing signs of steadily maturing and expanding.