Safety is paramount

Passengers watch as ‘Jinty’ No 47406 runs round its train at Leicester North on 19 August 2014
Published Wed, 2015-03-18 15:48

Undoubtedly the most significant event to affect steam operation in Britain recently has been the decision by Network Rail to issue a suspension notice to West Coast Railways following the SPAD near Wootton Bassett in early March.


Passengers watch as ‘Jinty’ No 47406 runs round its train at Leicester North on 19 August 2014 © Peter Waller

The National Network — indeed all of Britain’s railways — have an enviable safety record; indeed no passenger has been killed in a train accident on the National Network for almost a decade and the era of Clapham Junction, Hatfield and Potters Bar, to name but three significant accidents of the 1980s and 1990s, is now, thankfully, behind us. This is not, however, by luck; it’s by the rigorous enforcement of regulations and by significant investment in equipment and systems designed to enhance safety. There are still fatalities — suicides and those taking risks at level crossings, for example — but Britain’s railways are statistically very safe. It is this that makes the issuing of the suspension notice all the more worrying; this is not the place to speculate on the causes — that will be the subject of Network Rail’s investigation and the work of the RAIB — but the fact that it has happened should send shock waves through the whole of the steam movement — particularly in preservation. The past few years have witnessed a number of accidents on preserved railways, some of which were serious and some of which could have been much more serious than they proved to be. The reality is that steam — and railways more generally — is potentially dangerous and all those involved in running steam, both on the main line and in preservation, owe it to the rest of the preservation movement and to the passengers or visitors to obey the rules and to make sure that any breaches of the rules are reported. One serious incident — say an accident with multiple casualties — on a preserved railway and the book will be thrown at the movement with serious consequences, both legal and financial.

Welcome to Unseen Steam

All of us involved in the creation of the new unseensteam website would like to welcome you: we hope that you enjoy the ride. Unseen Steam has grown out of the archives of a UK-registered charity — Online Transport Archive — which has been offering a safe repository for transport-related films and photographs for more than a decade. Over this period the archive has gathered together a vast array of material from Britain and around the world, much of which may simply have been destroyed had it not been for the action of those behind the charity in trying to ensure the survival of these vulnerable collections. Amongst material secured was the photographic collection of the late Julian Thompson which was repatriated from The Philippines following his death and which is now undergoing conservation and preservation. Recognising the fact that the archive’s funds would not permit the immediate transfer of the significant film holdings to digital — the cost of transferring the 9.5mm film alone was a significant four-figure sum — the trustees  joined forces with a leading media company – DMA Media Ltd – to make their film available to the public through an exciting new website and DVD releases. is the first manifestation of this venture through DMA’s  new company, Unseen Archives Ltd, which hopes to go on to work with more archives around the UK. Although initially concentrating on UK steam and railway subjects, it is planned that as the film investigation is progressed and more footage is made available, further subjects — overseas railways, trams and trolleybuses worldwide plus buses and maritime themes — will also be explored. As with any new venture, we welcome feedback; don’t hesitate to contact us with your comments — both positive and negative — as we continue to invest in this website over the succeeding months.  Follow the links on the website to give your feedback; it’s only by learning what you like and don’t like that we can strive to meet your needs. One of the most important facets of the site is news; if you have any items of steam related news, please email the story, with any images that you might have, to If you’re a preserved railway’s press officer, make sure that we’re added to your mailing list for press releases. Our daily updates – Monday to Friday – will ensure those people you’re looking to reach will read it here first.

Enjoy Unseen Steam !


Peter Waller