Speaking at the National Railway Museum annual dinner on 21 October, Lord Faulkner of Worcester appealed for support from the railway industry and its heritage sector for the retention of the Railway Heritage Committee (the body he chaired until 2009).

He said that in the run-up to the Government’s announcement on the future of non-departmental public bodies on 14 October around 30 influential and well-informed individuals had written to the minister of state for railways, Theresa Villiers, urging the government not to include the RHC in the list of non-departmental government bodies facing abolition. Many of those – including Sir William McAlpine, Ian Brown, Mark Hopwood, Tim Shoveller and Steve Davies – were present at the NRM dinner.

“The news I have to share with you is that not only is the government proposing the abolition of the RHC, it is also suggesting that the thousand or so artefacts and records which have been designated since 1996, which was when the committee was set up in its present form by a Conservative government with all-party support, should lose that designation.

“The reasons for this decision are not to do with saving money. Every member of the committee is a volunteer, and without it being possible to designate items in future, there will be additional costs for the NRM, for other museums and heritage railways. Neither is it about reducing administrative burdens, as these will increase for everyone in the industry concerned with railway heritage.

“The decision has been taken because they see no case for viewing the heritage of our railways any differently from other parts of the transport sector.

Andrew Adonis wrote the Foreword for the 2008-2009 RHC annual report. He said this: “’I have been constantly impressed as I meet railway workers at all levels at the extent to which a sense of the railway’s past is a real inspiration to those who work in the industry today. And, as a historian myself, I am all too well aware of the risk that both artefacts and archives can be lost for good if they are not properly appreciated and cared for.’

“Can ministers really ignore the passion of the British people to visit railway museums, ride on heritage railways, volunteer to open up new stretches of preserved line, recreate the experience of steam and vintage railway travel, and even build a new main line steam locomotive from scratch?

“Can they really take the view that the country that gave railways to the world, whose own society was transformed by them, should no longer regard that heritage as something that needs specially to be protected?

“I am reminded of that wonderful exchange in the Titfield Thunderbolt where Gordon and the vicar are anxiously talking about the possible closure of their branch line.

The Reverend Sam Weech: They can't close our line, it's unthinkable
Gordon: What about the old Canterbury-Whitstable line? They closed that.
Weech: Perhaps there were not men of sufficient faith in Canterbury.

“I believe that there are enough men and women who have sufficient faith in railway heritage to be able to persuade the government to think again. Many of them I believe are here this evening. We are working on alternative ways forward, and we shall come to you and ask for your support. I believe that the current political catchphrase is “We’re all in this together”. Let’s work together for a sensible solution.”