The continued operation of the railway relies on the efforts of volunteers to supplement the small permanent staff. Volunteers provide most of the guards, assist with preparation of locos and trains, man stations and do many other jobs. In the winter, working parties meet regularly to undertake track work, relaying, reballasting, renewal of fences and telephone equipment. Many members do valuable work in publicising the railway at fetes, rallies and exhibitions in their home areas all over the country. If you have a special skill we would be glad to find you work to suit – otherwise we can give you training.
Interested in getting involved? We have a Volunteer Liaison Officer who will be pleased to provide more details of any of these opportunities, alternatively, feel free to approach a guard at the railway.
Every train that operates on the railway has a guard, and most of these are volunteer members of the Society. In the height of summer up to five guards are needed every day, but at least two guards are needed throughout the daily service.
Being a guard on the railway can be both a challenging and rewarding job. A typical day will see you report to Ravenglass in time to ensure the cleanliness of your carriages and also assist in any shunting that may be required. There is always time for a cup of tea before commencing your first trip of the day. As the guard you will have collected your ticket machine from Ravenglass booking office along with other essential equipment prior to checking your passengers' tickets. Another of the guard's duties at Ravenglass (and Dalegarth) is to assist the driver in coupling/uncoupling the engine as well as watering it. Once all the passengers are on board you will check the signal is off, blow your whistle and set the train off.
On your journey up the valley you will ensure that the train stops at the intermediate request stops as required and also sell tickets to passengers wishing to board. You are also expected to keep the train running to time wherever possible and ensure that it is operating safely (e.g. your train passes other trains at the correct locations). In addition you also perform an important customer service function in providing information on everything from main line connections to the history of the railway.
A typical Guarding turn will consist of either two or three round trips in a day. At the end of your last trip you may be required to help shunt the carriages into the carriage shed before returning to the Booking Office to cash in your day's takings.
As you might expect for such a responsible role, full training is given which not only includes the above duties but also covers such things as the radio control system and the workings of the locomotives. It is worth noting that virtually all our guarding roster vacancies are filled by volunteers.
Guards with sufficient experience are able to apply for a position as a volunteer driver. A selection programme runs each year and initially covers shunting and diesel driving, with potential also to progress to steam driving. Currently all of the weekend diesel turns during the daily season are operated by volunteer drivers.
Not only does this department maintain the 7 miles of track but it is also responsible for a wide range of duties including fencing, ditching and line-side clearance. Contrary to popular belief, work on the track is not all strenuous and jobs can always be found that suit all abilities. As one might expect major work such as track renewal takes place during the winter months with scheduled working parties undertaking major relaying projects often to a strict deadline. During the summer months other tasks are carried out that do not require total possession of the railway. Dates for organised events are published in the society magazine and on our website but volunteers are more than welcome at any time to work alongside the full time staff.
Each November there is "track week" when a substantial section of track is re-laid by a combined team of staff and volunteers. This involves removing the old track, digging out the ballast (with the aid of a digger!) and then assembling the new track in situ before reconnecting it to the rest of the railway. Ballasting and packing of the track then follows.
Fishplate greasing is an annual task which each year sees one third of the fishplates on the line removed and greased. This is an essential task that prevents the track from buckling in hot weather, and is mostly carried out over bank holiday weekends. Greasing involves working as part of a highly organised team although one has to be warned that the nature of the task usually involves getting very dirty!
There are some 12 miles or so of fences that need to be maintained. This can vary from patching holes and replacing the odd post to complete renewal of long stretches of life expired fence.
There are numerous other tasks that fall under the auspices of this department from repairing dry stone walls to digging ditches or erecting signs.
This is one of those relatively unseen but necessary jobs that requires doing. It can be most enjoyable to walk the length of the line (or part of it) on a nice sunny day. Bin bags and litter pickers are provided as is a 2-way radio so you know where the trains are.
During the operating season there is a requirement for up to four steam engines to operate the service. These engines take a lot of preparing to keep them to the high standard of cleanliness that passengers have come to expect. Whilst a lot of the responsibility for this falls upon the individual driver (on the Ratty a policy of drivers having their "own" engine is maintained where possible), help in this department is welcomed. Not only is there the cleaning of engines plus coaling them at the end of the day but also the shed environment has to be kept tidy, including the ash pits and shed floor. Wood for lighting up in the morning periodically needs to be stacked up to dry out. Whilst working in the shed maybe out of the public gaze it is nonetheless another essential part of helping to run the railway.
The main line signal box closed by British Rail in the 1960's is today owned by the railway. It was restored by the railway a few years ago and internally fitted out by the late Gordon Nichol. When persons are available, it is opened to the public and this is a job suited to those that want something a little less strenuous.
The Railway has a fully equipped workshop where it undertakes a wide range of tasks, not just the maintenance and overhaul of locos and coaches. Work varies from major rebuilds of the steam and diesel fleet to minor day to day running repairs. In recent years, several coaches have been converted to carry cycles and the Society steam loco River Mite has received a new boiler. In addition there are numerous other tasks involving fabrication and renovation / repair of equipment for other departments on the line. Please note that working in this department requires some previous experience in an engineering environment.
The Volunteer Liaison Officer will be pleased to provide more details of any of these opportunities.