The West Coast Railway Company Limited, trading as West Coast Railways (WCR), is a railway spot-hire company and charter train operator based at Carnforth MPD in Lancashire. Using buildings and other facilities previously owned by the Steamtown Carnforth visitor attraction, in 1998 the company became the first privately owned company to be given a licence as a train operating company.
After British Rail closed the Lakeside branch to passengers on 6 September 1965, a group of enthusiasts chaired by Dr Peter Beet formed the Lakeside Railway Estates Company, with the idea of preserving both the line and Carnforth MPD, to provide a complete steam operating system. After agreeing to rent out part of the Carnforth MPD site, but with the counter the development of the A590 road meaning that the complete vision was unsuccessful, Beet developed the visitor attraction Steamtown Carnforth, which became a mecca for steam enthusiasts from 1967.
In 1974 Sir Bill McAlpine became a shareholder in the company, allowing his LNER A3 Pacific No.4472 Flying Scotsman to make Carnforth its home. McAlpine subsequently acquired a controlling interest in the company, in order to fund the purchase of the complete site including the track from BR.
In light of McAlpine’s declining interest, in 1990 his controlling interest in Steamtown Railway Museum Ltd was sold to David Smith, who over the following years has bought out most of the minority shareholders. With increasing Health and Safety Executive regulations, and an increased reliance on revenue from supplying and servicing steam locomotives to power enthusiast trains, the commercial decision was taken not to reopen Carnforth as a museum or visitor attraction for the 1998 season. Steamtown Railway Museum Ltd still exists today as the holding company, and operates an extensive railway repair and operating facility on the site. Smith later set up the West Coast Railway Company Ltd, as a train operating company
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