I was reminded today of a comment often heard when people looked at the display on the walls of Orton Mere station.
We had pictures of various things on the wall, amongst them were pictures of old tickets enlarged to A4.
One off the most common comments we heard was:-
“Oh look how big tickets were in the old days!”
Most were amazed when we told them that they had been enlarged so they were easier to see, I could never imagine anybody walking round with an A4 sized ticket in their pocket.
Back in January 2020 I agreed to step up to Acting General Manager to cover the GM’s maternity leave. Little did any of us really know what was in store. Sure, the word Covid was starting to appear in the news, but at that point it did not seem any more dangerous than when SARS had been around.
By the end of February, I was firmly in position and the word Pandemic, was starting to be bandied about as infection levels in Europe were fast growing out of control, and then by mid-March it hit us all. Emergency meetings, analysis of budgets, realisations of lockdowns and the final decisions were made to shut the doors on the railway and furlough most of the work force.
As spring turned into summer, and more and more of the exciting events we had planned had to be either cancelled or postponed the enormity of taking on the role became apparent. However, I did not let it deter me and I grabbed the challenges ahead of how we would re-open with all the restrictions that would need to be in place and got working on them.
Sadly, as we edged nearer to the lifting of lockdown one, the lack of funding, unsuccessful grant applications and the knowledge that the hard months ahead would be with limited footfall, the horrible period of redundancies also took place. In all my working life, I have for most of it, been a manager of a team, and though had been part of dismissals I had never been part of redundancies. The process was without doubt gruelling and at times heart-breaking and it was very sad to have such losses in what was a small team was already.
However, onwards and upwards was the journey I travelled. With the support of staff and dedicated and generous volunteers we moved forward and opened our doors to visitors – yes it was different, but we adapted, we trialled things and adapted again and in a short space of time we were successfully running trains with a slick timetable that allowed for full carriage cleansing in between services among other things.
As the autumn approached we clung on tight, we prepped for Santa and sold tickets fast and furiously, in the few short years I have been with NVR I had not seen so many tickets sold quite so quickly as I did on the day we put the tickets live on our web site. The buzz was great, everything felt good, still the restrictions, but by then we had a good system in place and one we all felt good about. Then lockdown 2 hit, but this time it was different, it had an end date. It meant we lost the first few dates of Santa, but again we adapted, quickly moved bookings, laid on an extra day to accommodate and we once again retreated to furloughing staff for the month of the lockdown.
December dawned, and we hit the tracks running, the entertainer arrived, the presents were stacked high and we turned on the Christmas music. The first customers arrived, booked in and made their way to our new look grotto, where they met with Santa who was sat socially distanced on a stage surrounded by Christmas trees, his trusty reindeer and helpers. All went according to plan and we had 15 very successful train trips over the next two weeks that followed.
Behind the scenes though, my eye was firmly fixed on the news headlines. It was clear that the infection levels were gathering at such a pace that the remaining running days were hanging on literally by a thread. I had regular staff meetings with the office crew on the ‘what if’s’ hoping against hope that none of it would be necessary. But, by the evening of the 18th December after calls with the local authorities it was clear that the next days would be hard and we were required to make further adjustments to which tier levels we could allow to come to the railway. We had to reach out to customers due with us that weekend who were not in the same tier, ask them to halt their journey and contact us. We just about got through the 19th, when the daily briefing by Boris told us all we were heading towards a longer lockdown. The locos were put to bed, announcements out to the customers for the 20th and we shut the doors once again.
The 20th December was a very sad day for me personally. I came to work and three of us manned the office, taking calls and replying to emails, working through 15 train loads of customers who we were bringing deep disappointment to. All those children who had been looking forward to seeing Santa and having their special train ride, the pain was almost too much to bare.
A small band of volunteers were also on site, who stowed a lot of our treasured and expensive Christmas items away. They found time to host some families who had not got the message, making sure they had a warming drink and the children left with a present – not quite the same as seeing Santa but at least they did not leave empty handed.
Christmas ended for me that day – the pain of having to give in so dramatically to this awful pandemic in such a rapid fashion is one that will live with me for a long time, and but for writing about it here, will become a forgotten episode in the years ahead in the history of NVR.
We now find ourselves in March 2021, still waiting to climb out of that same lockdown, but a sense of excitement is beginning to build as vaccinations role out and a pathway out of the pandemic is now laid out.
So as I come to the end of my time in the role I find myself reflecting back on what has happened and hopefully as I hand the baton back I do so with an element of pride that I led my colleagues through what has been history in the making and I hope leaves NVR on a reasonable footing for the years ahead.
I received this from Mark Hernandez Deputy Editor of Nene Steam. My thanks to him for this contribution.
I’ve seen the video above shared on a few local railway groups I belong to on social media and by a lot of NVR volunteers so I got in contact with James, the young lad who created it . He kindly agreed to a short Q&A over email which I’ve included below.
Hi Marc. No problem. I am glad you like the vid it is probably the longest I have made in this format! (Ghost Train)I’ll try and answer as best I can.
Q – What made you decide to produce a then and now animated journey on the Northampton-Peterborough railway? I take it’s part of a series you’ve been doing of lost/closed railways
A – I chose the Northampton – Peterborough line in part via a suggestion from one of my followers. Every now and then I will throw a poll or question as to where I should explore next with my various projects – after I had produced several “Ghost Train” films in this style it was recommended that I take a look at the Northampton to Peterborough line. On quick inspection I discovered some interesting changes to the local landscape. (A lot of the track seems to be cutting through water/ lakeland in many places.) I myself am not a local being based in North Norfolk. However I am always interested in dramatic change from anywhere in the country and railways provide a striking albeit poignant one.
Q – Have you got any local connections to the original railway or ‘Nene Valley’ area?
A – I have not been to the Nene Valley but no doubt its on the to do list after all these lockdowns!
Q – Can you briefily talk us through the process of how you created the video? Time it took etc
A – I split into phases with these films. First I research the stations along the route – what images are available to use etc then I plot the route out on both the old map and the modern day. I then synchronize the two so they work in tandem with one another. I can then animate the train and add in any extra “cutscenes” showing the on the ground locations as they are now. True trainiacs will note that the locomotive I have been using isn’t authentic to the line but that is more a limitation of my resources and should be taken as illustrative of the route rather than a reflection of the original railway. I can usually get one of these done in a matter of a few days – with the pandemic I have had more time than usual to devote to such projects!
If you could link to my youtube channel that would be a great help. https://www.youtube.com/c/JamesFoxTimeTravelArtist/ Let me know if there are any other questions and I will try and answer as best I can!
Please visit the James Fox YouTube channel. The history of the railway and its social implications are my areas of interest, so I personally found this video very interesting.
Today, I am really proud to announce, that Nene Valley Railway has been awarded £479,675 by Arts Council England in its second round of Awards.
This massive boost to our railway will help restore our reserves that we have had to use during 2020, and sustain us for the next few months as we continue to move towards ‘the light at the end of tunnel’
Mike Kerfoot, our Chairman, reminded me in his statement, that NVR has one of the longest tunnels on any preserved railway, and our journey to that light at the end has often been a hard one. But, today, with such fabulous news to share, that light has become brighter and together we can get to the end of the tunnel feeling a huge sense of achievement.
I would personally like to thank all the staff, volunteers and supporter of our railway for all they have given in the past 12 mths – without that support I do not know how we would have managed.
Please hop over to our News section on the web site for further information https://nvr.org.uk/product.php/215/latest-nene-valley-railway-news and please share the good news #hereforculture.
Kim Shaw – Acting General Manager.
This is the first in a regular series of images from Jason Isaac who did the three part article on photographing along the line.
71000 Duke of Gloucester stands alongside Standard 5 73050 City of Peterborough at Wansford during the 2011 Steam Gala.
Now that’s a question I have been asked on a regular basis.
The answer is it depends on what you think is dirty.
Here is a picture of Harry Baldwin back in 2009, he was a cleaner on steam locos. I often commented the loco was cleaner than he was!!
Excellent news, hopefully lots of tickets will be sold. Details are on the main Railway web site at www.nvr.org.uk
The other day I received an email, now that in itself is not unusual, I receive many emails every day.
But this one, just out of interest was from a member of the public not a member of the railway and asked the following question.
What is your most unusual memory?
Now that’s not an easy question to answer as I have so many memories of the funny, the sad and the unusual at the station I ran for over 14 years.
But one incident springs to mind and it is from the first year I was on the railway.
Now my first year was spent split between working at Ferry Meadows station and working on the trains as a TTI, and it is doing the latter job that this incident comes from:-
Highlight of the year without doubt was opening the compartment on the Mk1’s with the blinds drawn. On opening it I was greeted with the sight of a young lady on her knees in front of her boyfriend. She was topless. I said “Tickets please” she did not flinch, he almost went through the roof in shock, I clipped their tickets and left with the comment that I would not charge for the two bald headed children and shut the compartment door behind me.
Never a dull moment!!
For the first five years I wrote a short article covering each year.
These can be read on my old blog site at www.arkwrightsoforton.co.uk Should you read them I hope you enjoy them. Some of the information in them is no longer relevant but they do show my first five years on The Nene Valley Railway.
Go to main site at www.nvr.org.uk for details soon…