A PLAN to replace Hengistbury Head’s ‘Noddy train’ with an eco-friendly, sustainable substitute has sparked outrage among local residents.
The well-loved service, which has run for 50 years, has been out of action since October 2018 following a serious accident involving a female cyclist.
The then-Bournemouth Borough Council halted all services until a health and safety investigation into the incident, which also involved the police, was completed. A petition demanding the trains be allowed to run again, which was launched in April this year, gathered over 4,000 signatures.
A mini-bus service was first introduced earlier this year to replace the Noddy train which ran between Double Dykes car park and Mudeford sandbank.
The new BCP Council then brought in one of its Bournemouth seafront land trains in April to Hengistbury Head but it was only meant to be a temporary replacement.
Now BCP Council has announced on social media that the Noddy train is too expensive to make safe and as a result it is “looking into alternative long-term stainable options” to take its place.
It said the replacement option could include “a battery-run, or hybrid land train to support our commitment to become carbon neutral by 2030.”
BCP Council also said it was not an option to repair the 30-year-old traditional trains as it would take “extensive” and “costly” works to enable them to run again.
The news was greeted with anger by some residents who demanded the original trains be re-instated.
Lucy Lawless posted on a Facebook page: “Won’t be the same if it’s not the Noddy trains.”
Matthew Rudd agreed saying: “Bring back the original Noddy train, you can hear it coming and as it’s green it blends in.”
Neil Hewitt wrote: “Recycle the existing perfectly serviceable train by retro fitting it with the appropriate bits if we must pretend that suddenly it’s running on a public road.”
“Run it on bio-diesel or recycled veg oil with a view to converting to electric in the long term. There is nothing ‘green’ about throwing a perfectly good vehicle away in order to expend huge amounts of resources manufacturing a new one to replace it unless it’s going to be massively more efficient and last a very long time.”
Chris Potter said that making the new trains eco-friendly would have hardly any impact on the environment.
He said: “There are over 1.4 billion fridges, freezers in use every day. Spending [thousands] to make the Hengistbury land train ‘green’, is not the answer to the question. Either leave it as it is or sack it off altogether.”
The Noddy train was launched in April 1968 by Roger Faris and his wife Joyce. She continued to run them after his death in the 1980s until she retired in 2015. It was then run by the council.
In 2014 more than 21,000 people signed a petition against council plans to replace the traditional wooden trains with more modern ones to make them wheelchair friendly.
In April this year the new BCP Council took over complete ownership of the train. In its announcement that the Noddy train would not be returning, it said that engine-controlled brakes would had to have been fitted to each carriage, along with several other safety improvements to enable its reinstatement.
The council said it would not be “permitted” to run the traditional trains without a “complete redesign” to make them meet Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA) standards.
But the council did pledge to bring back some sort of land train, saying it felt it “is important to reinstate a land train service befitting of the location and traditions of this world-renowned Site of Special Scientific Interest.”
Some residents have claimed that the VOSA standards do not have to be adhered to, as the road the Noddy train travelled along is not a public one.
But the council says it has taken independent legal advice which has says it is. Not only do the trains have to meet the VOSA standards but the drivers also require a passenger service vehicle licence.
A BCP Council spokesman said: “The Hengistbury Head land train is a very popular service among both residents and visitors to the area.
“Over the last 50 years, generations of people have created fond memories of using this service, and although we are disappointed that we can no longer continue using the traditional train, we understand that modern operating standards require the highest levels of safety and, as such, are looking forward to investigating alternative options to keep this popular attraction running.”
They said the old trains will be offered for sale or auctioned off, with the proceeds going towards the cost of replacements.
The service operating at the moment will stop after Sunday 5th January for an annual inspection and pre-season service, with their return expected for the spring half-term.
The Land Rover luggage service will not be affected.