In 2010 the NNR opened a link with the National Rail network when they re-instated the level crossing at Sheringham to connect with the Bittern branch line to Cromer and Norwich. Since then the heritage railway has been looking at ways to develop greater use of the link, and last year promoted a pilot series of dining trains running through from the NNR station at Sheringham to Cromer operated on their behalf by charter operator West Coast Railways.
Running on just four days, the 2016 trial proved that there was a strong market appeal for such trains which all sold out rapidly. With a view to establishing services to Cromer as a regular feature, and to ensure their ongoing viability, NNR sought advice and help from NYMR who have over ten years’ experience operating trains over Network Rail’s Esk Valley line.
The result has been a unique partnership between the two heritage railways which, through a staged approach, should in due course lead to NNR operating their own trains over Network Rail from Sheringham to Cromer though operating further afield is a possible option being considered. In stage one, starting in July, such trains will be operated by NYMR, as an existing licensed operator on Network Rail, under a revised safety certificate. A second stage will see NNR develop their own passenger licence and safety certificate applications to enable them to take over the direct operation of trains on Network Rail.
Hugh Harkett, NNR managing director said, “Development of services to Cromer has been a long-held ambition for the North Norfolk Railway. So, we are most grateful to our friends at the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, not only for their willingness to share their experience, but also their readiness to help us to get started by taking on the role of train operator. We believe that collaboration of this nature between two heritage railways is unprecedented, and it is our hope that both railways will benefit from working so closely together.”
Chris Price, NYMR general manager said, “The North Yorkshire Moors Railway are delighted to be supporting the North Norfolk Railway in the exciting project of running regular services to Cromer. Our experience as a heritage railway working with, and operating over, Network Rail enables us to assist NNR in this very practical way. While this helps them to realise a dream, NYMR will also benefit through the exchange of ideas and sharing of experience more generally.”
Helping with project management has been NYMR’s former managing director, Philip Benham. Commenting on progress he said, “The widespread co-operation from rail industry parties, so vital to success of the project, has been most encouraging. The Network Rail teams, in both the Anglia and LNE & EM routes, have been particularly supportive. Similarly ORR have been extremely helpful, especially the Inspectorate who gave swift but thorough consideration to our safety certificate application.”