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SOUTH DEVON RAILWAY Announces New Railway Manager
Chris Williams on 70013 in 2011Photo © Nigel Harris (Rail Magazine editor) 2014

The award-winning South Devon Railway (SDR) has appointed Chris Williams as the SDR’s new ‘Railway Manager’ who will take over the running of all of the scenic, seven-mile line’s ever expanding train operations from June this year.

In a change in career from his previous commercial business experience, Mr Williams will take over the reins at one of the oldest heritage railway lines in the country which now has been running for 45 years.

But he boasts a strong railway pedigree and has been involved with heritage railways as a dedicated volunteer since 1968, first at the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway in Yorkshire, and latterly the Great Central Railway (GCR) in Leicestershire.

In his professional life, he has worked across the UK and overseas in senior positions, mainly in procurement and supply chain management for a number engineering companies, and latterly as material supply manager for Lloyds Banking Group. In a voluntary capacity, he is also the Great Central Railway’s chief locomotive inspector, a member of the railway’s ‘Operational Management Group’ and a steam and diesel train driver.

In his new role, Mr Williams will be responsible for all of the SDR’s operating staff, railway infrastructure personnel, including Permanent Way and Signal & Telegraph gangs, grounds and maintenance teams, plus station, museum and miniature railway groups.

When ‘Britannia’ Class steam loco No. 70013 “Oliver Cromwell” made a surprise visit to the SDR in Easter 2010 from the main line, Mr Williams came with the engine too so he already knows the South Devon line, and has also been ‘Responsible Officer’ for some of the prestigious engine’s main-line trips.

The SDR took the opportunity to re-organise its old management structure last year - which had been unchanged since 1991 – and create some new specialist management posts in order to better handle the increasing commercial success and considerable expansion of the SDR group of companies in recent years, and to meet the demands of three increasingly diverse businesses over the next decade.

The changes were triggered after a prolonged period of ill health forced previous General Manager Dick Wood to give up his role soon after masterminding the SDR’s record-breaking steam gala with the Great Western Society’s Steam Rail Motor in February 2013. He has now recovered sufficiently to fulfil a different, specialist role with the SDR as part-time PR & business development manager.

South Devon Railway Trust chairman Alan Taylor comments: “Whilst former General Manager Dick Wood showed himself to be a dynamic leader and certainly transformed the South Devon Railway to its next stage of development during his five years in charge, we believe that we have found the ideal replacement in Chris Williams to run the railway side of the business. ”

“Chris will bring with him a new rigour, depth of experience and considerable expertise to the railway operating procedures on the SDR.”

“We were maybe optimistic in expecting to find a railway manager with solid railway experience and knowledge, plus a firm grounding in business, good people skills and a sound understanding of the tourist industry, plus a passion for industrial heritage, but we found him! ”

“We have a very special, friendly branch-line atmosphere here with staff and volunteers working hand in hand, so Chris’ aim is to maintain that relationship and try to get the best out of our people, as well as obviously making our visitors welcome.”

Commenting on his new appointment, SDR Railway Manager Chris Williams said: “Taking this job on from Dick Wood is both a great honour and a real privilege for me. I’m looking forward to the challenge immensely and repaying the trust people have put in me.”

“My early exposure to the South Devon Railway was just through photographs and heritage railway magazines. And, being based in the ‘frozen North’ it was not until the early 1980s that I first visited Buckfastleigh to look at newly restored Standard 4 tank engine No. 80064. ”

“Since then, I have maintained a regular interest in the goings on at the South Devon Railway, and the line has become a compulsory stopping point for me in recent years whenever I have visited the West Country.”

“When ’Oliver Cromwell’ No. 70013 was stabled at Buckfastleigh for a week during 2010, the level of friendliness shown to myself and all the crew, plus a general ’can do’ attitude and, of course, the picturesque setting of the line served only to strengthen the already high opinion I had formed about the South Devon Railway.”

“The role is one challenge which I am really looking forward to starting. I cannot wait to join the team and begin to meet the people who make it all happen, and contribute towards developing the South Devon Railway for the future.”

Chris Williams on 8F 48624 Summer 2013Photo © SDRA Collection 2014

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