UK rail freight is fun again – DRS open day raises a load for charity

A fixture on the calendar that has sadly been missing for the last two years made it back in style last weekend. The much anticipated Direct Rail Services Open Day drew record crowds to its Crewe Gresty Bridge depot. The rail freight operator has been unable to stage the popular event in the past two years, but the fans gave a rousing welcome back.

All the usual stars were on show at the DRS open day. Apart from being a unique opportunity for the public to get behind the scenes at an iconic railway location, it is also a much-appreciated fund-raiser for a portfolio of charitable and community organisations. The loss of such fund-raising opportunities over the past two years has been a critical loss to the sector and a hidden consequence of the pandemic.

Heritage sale finances modernisation

DRS is currently selling off what the company calls its “heritage fleet”. However, visitors to future open days need not be too concerned. The bulk of the portfolio on offer, ten class 37 locomotives, which are perennial favourites at the event, are offered on a sale and lease back basis, taking them off the capital books and putting their continued use into annual running costs. For a fully depreciated asset, it is a common accounting manoeuvre.

The 37s certainly drew plenty of attention from the open day crowds. Any potential buyers were safe in the knowledge that tenders do not close until the end of the month. DRS has been modernising its fleet for some time, with electric and bi-mode traction playing a larger part in the company’s operations.

Youth teams to national appeals

Apart from what is widely regarded as the most fun day for the industry (and the hardest work for DRS colleagues), the purpose of the open day is to bolster funds for charity and community groups. “All money raised at the open day is then used to provide grants for local charities across the country”, says the company. “At the 2019 open day [the last event organised before the pandemic], over 10,000 pounds [12,000 euro] was raised.”

Recruitment. Image DRS

The unique aspect of the distribution of funds comes down to the company itself. “Sponsorship and donations is where the money raised from the open day is distributed”, said DRS. “This is where colleagues, friends, and family can apply for sponsorship. We donate to various causes, [such as] youth football teams, national charities, local projects and appeals.”

STEM support and commemorations

As part of the company’s commitment to future generations, DRS also allocates funds to support Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) activities in schools. They make a specific encouragement to foster an interest in the rail freight industry. DRS is now part of Nuclear Transport Solutions, which undertakes the transfer of radioactive materials between sites in the UK.

Also, DRS revived its naming policy at the weekend, with two locomotives dedicated to departed employees. The company’s founder, Max Joule, was commemorated with a plaque on locomotive 66422. Deceased long-serving driver Paul Scrivens was similarly commemorated on 66424.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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