• York Rotary

The business of running a heritage railway

Paul Roberts reports.....

Chris Price was probably known to York Rotarians before he came along to us on 17th September. As one of the constellation of stars featuring in the recent Channel 5 series, where Chris apparently referred to himself as "The Fat Controller", his face had a certain familiarity.

He would have been even more familiar to Donald Heath, unfortunately not with us for the occasion, whom Chris said he had known since the age of fourteen, when he began the railway part of his career in central Wales, on the Talyllyn Railway.

Other than a spell in the RAF, Chris has been a railwayman all his working life and came to talk to us about his current work on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

The backgrounds to his accompanying slides showed romantic-nostalgic scenes of locomotives shrouded in steam or idyllic summer views of the Moors, with the landscape-enhancing railway in the distance. But the foreground words on each slide, fleshed out by Chris's lively rhetoric, told a no-nonsense, up-to-date tale of adaptation, financial realties and future plans. We were reminded that you can't run a heritage railway on enthusiasm alone, that fares income does not cover running costs (even when the workforce is largely unpaid) and that, paradoxically, you have to keep moving forward in order to preserve the past.

Chris outlined how the railway had just about managed to stay afloat during and following the Covid pandemic and how, in advancing to the future, he had found himself involved in political discussions at both local and national levels.

How do you square the burning of coal with a global effort to eliminate the stuff? How do you ensure that, as a charity, you fulfil your educational and community-oriented aims? How do you use your undoubted clout as part of the local economy to forge new links, push forward with fresh plans?

With our many individual visits to the railway, and, of course, Channel 5, we may have thought we knew a great deal about the NYMR.

Chris's talk went a lot further than filling in the gaps, leaving us with an idea of the complexities of his job and role and the far-reaching implications and entailments of keeping the railway operating.

Chris Price with "Piglet" on Channel 5

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