Thursday, 6 March 2008

The Eve of the Reopening - Progress Report

Good evening.

It was a strangely quiet day at Wirksworth Station today. There was plenty of activity going on and once again, we saw transformations hour-on-hour, but there was a quiet sense of anticipation for what is going to be happening in the next 48 hours. No fuss, no ballyhoo, just a determined team effort to get the job done and have us look our very best.

So where do we start?

Money is always a good place: two paying guests were on site, both testing a variety of on-track machines. Passing the training room at lunchtime, it was interesting to see it full of customer representatives hard at work in a meeting; pretty well the same location where there was once an abandoned car less than a decade before.

Meanwhile, the Incline coach which had come to us in a grubby blue and grey livery now sparkled in the, er, overcast, resplendent in malachite green with lining, speed whiskers and antimacassers (hey, what did macasser ever do to us?). What has almost become 'Mission Impossible' to Dave Mee has now become a tribute to his skill.

The DMUs received a darned good fettle. Mike and his faithful assistant were seen emerging from underneath each carriage in turn as they checked, oiled, greased and tested. Even your Global Marketing department (me) was involved, fitting destination blinds. No longer will our trains break the Trades Descriptions Act by purporting to take passengers to such exotic destinations as Princes Risborough, Acton, Redditch and Litchfield Trent Valley. From now on, our destination blinds say Wirksworth, Ravenstor Shottle, Duffield and Idri dgehay.

With a speed and dexterity that amazed all, Rod Birch completed the construction of the north-end foot crossing, which will become the normal means of crossing to Platforms 2 and 3 in future. To see him whacking away with his enormous mallet at a full-size sleeper was a pretty awe-inspiring sight. If you spill his pint, you'd better get him a replacement fast.

Concurrent with the completion of the crossing was the laying of tarmac on the north-end platform ramps; The transformation in this area has been as rapid as it has been remarkable.

Meanwhile, the repositioning of vehicles resulted in a fairly awesome amount of shunting: Richard Newby and Gavin Kenning seemed to be in their element. For the press launch tomorrow, we have an interesting selection of engineers vehicles on display next to platform 3.

Elsewhere, patient industry abounded. The booking hall dealt with a near-continuous stream of calls, including several from the media, promising good coverage on radio and TV tomorrow. Housekeeping was the order of the day in all quarters, while banners advertising the next phase of the reopening programme (of which more anon) were affixed on the platform 2/3 waiting shelter and at Idridgehay.

Finally, Vince Ware and his merry bunch from EVRA completed the painting of the new shop / information centre. Considering that the building arrived less than a month ago, progress has been swift and we now have a shop full of railwayana, old magazines, books, videos and DVDs which are guaranteed to cause marital disharmony for many couples in the future.

As I write this, the countdown timer on the website reads " 1 days 16 hours 28 minutes 5 seconds to go until the first train departs" (note to self - you need to change it to something else after Saturday lunchtime). Tomorrow we have our preview day for invited guests and working volunteers. This isn't meant to be something elitist; tomorrow is the day when we sell the railway for all its worth to local attractions, the rail industry, the press and 'The Worthies'; all of whom need to leave us with a favourable impression of what we all know is a fantastic project achieved by the very best volunteer team anywhere and with an exciting future. I am reminded of the night before the share launch in 2002, when we were poised waiting to step up onto the stage for the first time; now, this is about the fifth time we have laid-on a big press event and more than ever we know that we can deliver the goods. And the passengers.

Here's to Idridgehay - Duffield beckons.

Kind regards,

Neil