OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
In Conversation with Andrew Pooley
When Andrew Pooley visited By The Dart’s offices last month, he had a definite spring in his step. For the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway, which also owns the Riverlink boats and the River Dart passenger ferry, and of which Andrew is the General Manager, this year’s summer season has started with a bang! Now of course, a large part of that has something to do with the recent glorious weather and also the fact that more UK families have decided to holiday in the UK this year, but it’s also due to the many new initiatives and activities launched by the company.
“The short break market is very strong”, observed Andrew, “and we’ve been working more closely with hotels in Torbay to drive traffic onto our attractions.” Part of that has been due to recent events such as the Thomas the Tank Engine weekend at the end of June which attracted a lot of interest. Their Heritage Weekends have also proved popular.
On the 6th July, residents and visitors will see the Tornado steam engine visit Kingswear. This is likely to prove extremely popular as it is brand new and was featured in a ‘car versus steam train & motorbike’ competition on a recent Top Gear TV programme. Tornado will be running the Torbay Express charters on the 12th, 19th, 26th July and 2nd, 9th August 2009. Because of the likely interest and to ensure public safety, the police have been informed and any persons/photographer seen trespassing on the line will be prosecuted. There will be a chance to get ‘up close’ to Tornado at Paignton steam railway station between 2.30-4pm.
As By The Dart went to press, the railway had introduced their first Riviera Belle Dining Train of the season. Using local caterers and locally sourced food ingredients, this is likely to prove a very popular way to spend a summer’s evening passing through some of the most glorious countryside. “We are very excited by this new initiative and already our Regatta Dining is 50% sold,” says Andrew. Prices are £90 for two people and £180 for four. “During Agatha Christie Week in September, we ‘ll be running a Murder Mystery on the Dining Train with actors infiltrating the evening posing as guests.” Watch out for a Pirates Pandemonium event on the 25th and 26th of July when pirates hijack the train at Churston! Before boarding a ship
But it’s not only the train that’s working at capacity. “It’s nice to see the boats being kept busy this season. Our service to Greenway is doing well, especially as we have invested in a state of the art ticketing service on the Dartmouth embankment. This helps us manage the flow of traffic to Greenway and around the house.” As ever, the boats run a busy programme throughout the year with the regular Totnes-Dartmouth river cruises and the usual mix of private charters and weddings. The latter are proving popular with 14 weddings booked so far this year and 7 already for next year. Of these, an increasing number are getting married first on the steam railway. Local firm Philips Foods provides the catering and according to Andrew are doing “a great job”. Other events have included ‘Evenings with Dilys Guildford’ - internationally acclaimed medium and the sold out Ways with Words on the Water with Roy Hattersley. There’s a Dixieland Jazz Cruise on July 15th, 22nd & 29th and August 5th, 12th & 19th.
For visitors and residents with young children, it will be worth noting the Crabbing Cup event to be run by PDSR on July 20th awarded to the person catching most crabs between 11am and 1pm. There will also be an Ice Cream Festival in August - ice creams sourced from Dartmouth & Salcombe Ice Cream companies.
Andrew explained that “many of our initiatives this year have been designed to strengthen our weekend bookings. Normally our busiest days are Monday to Thursday as activity naturally drops on the changeover days of Friday and Saturday.
Although the PDSR is obviously focused on visitors to the area, Andrew is keen to stress the service it provides to local residents. “We have just reinstated, after 100 years, a ferry service from Stoke Gabriel to Dartmouth which is being actively supported by residents. It’s currently being run as a trial but I have high hopes for it. We’ve set aside a dedicated boat, which can take up to 12 passengers. It’s a one hour trip, running up to 3 times a day for 4 days a week or 5 days during peak periods. We’ve timed the return trips so users can plan a 3 hour stay in Dartmouth either for lunch or perhaps to visit Dartmouth Market. Departure times vary because of the tides. It will run through the winter but it is always best to pre-book and we will likely set aside it’s own website to facilitate this.” Andrew also hopes perhaps to run evening services across to Tuckenhay, subject to tides. “This helps us develop services for the top end of the river,” he explains.
To date, 3,000 local passes have been issued to local residents, which have been used to make more than 12,000 journeys. “We plan to extend this initiative as it gives us an opportunity to differentiate between residents and visitors to the advantage of the former.
Andrew also points to another recent initiative, the development of the Kingswear Belle Bistro alongside the Kingswear platform. It’s now being run by Stacey who previously ran ski chalets in St.Anton. Its opening times are 10am to 5.pm every day and it’s hoped that it will soon open during the evenings at peak times. It offers full blown meals priced competitively from £3 to £5 and cracking cream teas adding to the availability of eateries this side of the river. Already it is being used by regulars and is well placed for yachtsmen from the nearby Darthaven marina. They also hope to run a “meals on wheels” type service for the elderly in Kingswear during the winter . With meals delivered to the doorstep if ordered by 11.am e.g. lasagne and home made soups. A drinks licence has been applied for so wine-tastings are planned and it’s a great place for kids’ parties.
“Oh, I mustn’t forget,” reminds Andrew, “that the Die-Sel-Do fuel barge is back in commission this season offering boat owners competitively priced diesel for their boats, fresh milk and free drinking water.” With so much activity planned, the PDSR is looking for extra local part time or casual staff especially those seeking a 2nd job or prepared to work in the evenings (e.g. bar staff on the boats) or perhaps the semi-retired helping out in the booking offices or as ticket inspectors.
With so much happening with which to keep up to date, readers are advised to check the company’s website, www.pdsr.co.uk . Online enquiries and bookings are increasingly important to their operations. Having abolished the surcharge for booking online, ticket sales via the site are 300-400% up on last year.
In his second year in charge, Andrew has made a number of strategic changes to the business. He’s been focused on improving their marketing and PR, upgrading the website and filling their capacity with new initiatives and events. He’s become a Founder Director of Visit South Devon, an organisation charged with coordinating strategies to attract more visitors to South Devon. A busy man indeed....
Andrew gets the last word - “Dartmouth, the railway and the River are a special and unique combination. It’s something the PDSR will proudly market to the advantage of residents and visitors.”
First published July 2009 By the Dart