UK: Rail Charter Services has confirmed that its summer tourist trains over the Settle & Carlisle line, popularly known as the Staycation Express, will not operate in 2022.
In a brief statement, the company said ‘unfortunately owing to extraordinary difficult trading conditions we have had to take the difficult decision to suspend our Settle – Carlisle tourist rail services in 2022.
‘The current economic conditions have created the perfect storm of high costs while at the same time all the indicators point to constrained demand as people tighten their belts during this unprecedented time of economic uncertainty. We would like to thank all our loyal passengers and hope to see you back on board in 2023!’
RCS director Adrian Quine explained to Rail Business UK that the operation would have been unsustainable for 2022 given the rising cost of fuel, the squeeze on household budgets and the international tensions which are adding to concerns across the leisure industry in general. However he made it clear that this should not be seen as the end of the operation, insisting ‘this isn’t a closure but a suspension’.
The service was generally considered to have been successful in 2020, and RCS moved to a new operating model in 2021, using a 2+5 HST set with all first class accommodation and an enhanced catering offer. However, Quine explained that further Covid-19 uncertainty, coupled with an instruction by government not to promote leisure travel which scuppered a planned joint marketing initiative with Northern, had resulted in fewer passengers travelling.
Lack of political support, both centrally and locally, also meant that the contribution made by the service to the local economy went largely unrecognised, particularly in 2020 when 20 000 extra visitors were brought to the area.
Quine remains confident that the service could be a success. ‘Our modelling shows that with proper marketing, incorporation into the timetable and with some support that recognises the local benefits of the service it could wash its face financially’, he explained.
‘We’ve provided an oven-ready model that we have been told has literally saved some local businesses from going under. The government talks about levelling up but then seems to fail to recognise it when it’s delivered. Rail has so much to offer the north when out-of-the-box thinking is applied, with the Settle – Carlisle line an obvious contender.’
Industry sources report that Transport for Wales has expressed an interest in developing a tourist-based service on the scenic Heart of Wales Line, and is understood to be in preliminary discussions with Rail Charter Services.