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Bid to save Railway Heritage Committee

Sunday, November 7 2010

LMS Stanier Class 3P 2-6-2T and buffer-stops at Bradford Exchange Station in April 1961. The locomotive has been scrapped, the station was demolished in 1976, but the buffer stops have been designated by the Railway Heritage Committee. Photo Ben Brooksbank.

(Click on image to see original on Wikipedia and for details of licensing.)

The Railway Heritage Committee is a typically British creation. Its job is to designatw records and artefacts still within the ownership of the British railway industry which are historically significant and should be permanently preserved. Its origins go back to  an Advisory Panel on the Disposal of Historical Records, which  used to meet once or twice a year between 1984 and 1994 and make recommendations to the British Railways Board. Then, as arrangements were being put in place to privatise British Rail, Section 125 of the Railways Act 1993 made provision for a strengthened panel – the Railway Heritage Committee – to advise on the designation of historical records and artefacts still in publish ownership.

The original intention was that, as the former assets of the British Railways Board passed from public to private ownership, the scope of the committee would wither away to zero. In the event, a good case was made that rather than the the remit of the committee to reduce, it should be extended to cover the historic items being taken into the newly privatised railway companies and these new powers were confirmed in the Railways Act 1996. These powers were subsequently renewed and extended in the Transport Act 2000 and the Railways Act 2005. The Committee’s powers cover the following organisations:

  • The British Railways Board (‘the Board’). [Since deleted]
  • Any wholly-owned subsidiary of the Board. [Since deleted]
  • Any company which was formerly a wholly-owned subsidiary of the British Railways Board.
  • Any publicly-owned railway company.
  • Any company which was formerly a publicly-owned railway company.
  • The Secretary of State.
  • Any company which is wholly owned by the Secretary of State.
  • Any franchisee, and
  • Any franchise operator.

While the Committee can designate objects or artefacts belonging to any of the above it can also provide advice on railway heritage to other bodies. For example in November 2008, the Committee’s then chairman, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, wrote to the rail minister Lord Adonis asking him to intervene in the proposed forced closure of the Sittingbourne & Kemsley Light Railway by Finnish paper-making conglomerate, M-Real.

The Committee has 14 members, drawn from the railway industry, the record offices, the museums world, the heritage railway sector, and from railway historians. With the Committee’s members working as unpaid volunteers and the Department for Transport providing ‘reasonable administrative and secretarial support’, the RHC is probably one of the most cost-effective QANGOS in the country. Certainly in other countries railway historians look jealously at the way the preservation of railway archives and artefacts has been handled in the UK. But now the Committe has been targeted as one of the 175 ‘Non-Departmental Public Bodies’ that the government wish to axe as part of its campaign to reduce waste in the public sector. The Committee has served the rail industry for the last 14 years, providing continuity to the work of identifying railway records and artefacts for preservation, started by British Railways over 60 years ago.

On Tuesday, the Public Bodies Act – legislation which would enable Government Ministers to abolish QANGOS – comes up for a second reading in the House of Lords. The legislation will be challenged on several grounds! A number of Lords rightly feel that it is wrong to introduce legislation which would make it possible to dispose by Ministerial fiat statutory bodies bodies – those set up by Parliamet – without any scrutiny by either the Lords or The Commons. Meanwhile Heritage Railway Association President-elect, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, will be proposing his own amendment to save the work of the Committee. The continued existence of the Committee has been generally supported by the railway industry, only the new Network Rail board, anxious to demonstrate a more compliant attitude to the DfT, has – without any public notice – betrayed the cause!

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2 comments

  1. I am sure that the UK government’s plan is to sell off the heritage for the best price and make a bit of money.


  2. Can I make absolutely clear, contrary to the last line of this blog, Network Rail has taken no position on the future of the Railway Heritage Committee.

    Personally I am proud to be a member of that Committee and I hope that there will be something going forward. Whether it is the Committee as currently constituted will be for others to decide, but I am totally convinced of the value the Committee brings to the protection of Britain’s railway heritage.

    I am also proud to work for a company that has so radically improved Britain’s railways, running more trains, more punctually than ever before. If the writer of this piece had read our corporate responsibility report they would have seen Network Rail’s commitment to protecting Britain’s railway heritage and seen some practical examples of where that has been done to provide a sustainable future that is not simply a drain on the taxpayer and fare payer.



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