Far from developing and consolidating, the railway has become mired and tired. Limping along with little reserve, it has become embroiled with disputes internal and external, that has seen many of its life-blood volunteers move to other railways, and the company seemingly spending more money on solicitors and legal fees than on any extension northwards.
In the latest debacle, the owner of Austerity 0-6-0ST 'Lord Phil' after discovering that the loco had been steamed far more often than contracted with the company management having failed to disclose that fact, and that his boiler inspector finding it with significant defects, started a claim against the operating company, Peak Rail plc. This action commenced in September 2016, and an interim judgement of £120,000 made against Peak Rail on the 8th June 2017.
Yet the PR Annual General Meeting later in June made no mention of this, indeed, even though the locomotive's owner was present at the meeting, the Board banned any discussion on the topic, claiming that they had a 'robust defence'. Worse still, the accounts sent out to shareholders before the meeting mysteriously failed to include the Auditors' 'Notes to the Accounts' and copies were not available at the AGM. Given that these notes included details of the claim, and would therefore have made shareholders aware of the gravity of the situation, one might reasonably conclude that their omission might have been deliberate, to prevent the failings of the PR Board becoming known.
Yet in September, at a further hearing (a case and costs management meeting) it became apparent that far from having a 'robust case', PR were likely to lose in the final judgement, and instead they opted to accept a formal offer to settle under Part 36 of the Civil Procedures rules made by the loco owners back in February. Thus PR handed over £130,000 in late September, but up to mid December, had failed to pay the costs element (understood to be around £20,000) which has been accruing interest at around £5/day.
And not just in the Courts has the railway been failing. The HMRI served an Improvement Notice in May after PR failed to honour an undertaking to re-lay Darley Dale level crossing earlier in 2017. This resulted in the railway being closed for a weekend in August, with prospective passengers arriving at Rowsley to find gates locked and no explanation, and even coach parties left high and dry. The blame for this can only be laid at the door of the Matlock office.
During October, PR shareholders began to communicate with one another, and this has grown into the PEAK RAIL ACTION GROUP (PRAG). Writing to many shareholders to canvas support, PRAG has been bringing shock and disbelief to shareholders who have been kept in the dark of this, and other litigious cases about which the Board have not fully informed members.
Modern corporate governance – in the light of corporate cases like Enron – is much more stringent than hitherto. The Companies Act 2006 created hundreds of new criminal offences. Yet the reputation of Peak Rail in the heritage railway industry – and particularly that of its current Managing Director and day-to-day executive officer – is exceedingly poor. This must change.
If Peak Rail plc continues with its present management it will probably end up insolvent. Its best future lies in radical management overhaul. To achieve this, we must gain sufficient support to force an Extraordinary General Meeting, to compel the Board to come clean on current and recent legal disputes and their financial implications, and, (and we at PRAG believe this essential) remove the present Board and replace them with fresh, competent people.
Unfortunately some of the present PR plc Board also hold Directorships at the PRA, so at the present PRAG must operate independently. We know, however, that many PRA members fully support PRAG and long for the day when new management will recognise their efforts and finally give them the satisfaction of seeing the railway move towards its goal once again.
PRAG has assembled a group of specialists in various fields, willing and able to take on the management of Peak Rail and steer it back to recovery. We will reveal who they are when the time is right. For now, any information we released might be distorted and used against us.
When the notice of the meeting comes out, the present Board will exhort you to sign a proxy form giving your vote to the Chairman of the meeting. DON'T. We will make sure you have another proxy form that enables you to ensure that your vote is used by PRAG in the best long term interests of Peak Rail.
Peak Rail needs your help now more than ever before. Spread the word. Make it clear that this is not 'a small minority working against PR on a day-to-day basis' but grass roots change that is coming on slowly but surely.
Peak Rail needs new management, new ideas. The Peak Rail Action Group is the best chance it has got. Support Peak Rail's future, support PRAG, and Let's get Peak Rail back on track.