Steam Locomotive Department
article by: JC
The Steam Locomotive Department (SLD) has the task of ensuring the GWSR has enough locomotives and crews to meet the timetabled needs of each of its running days. Sometimes, dirty, sometimes long, sometimes heavy, the pride and satisfaction felt by SLD volunteers watching their handiwork out running on the service trains is second to none.
Whether you be an experienced engineman, or a beginner keen to get stuck in, the department welcomes anyone with a passion for steam.
Roles and Responsibilities
Training will be given, where appropriate, in routine tasks involved with the preparation, disposal and basic maintenance of steam locomotives. A record of attendance and work carried out will be maintained in the volunteer’s Activity Logbook. There are three main areas of the department, typical duties are listed below:
- Replacement of fire bars, brick arch and brake blocks, mechanical fitness to run inspections, boiler certification, calibration of gauges, ordering of spares etc.
- Repair and manufacture of locomotive parts i.e. machining, fitting, fabrication, welding etc.
- Other areas also include: shed and yard - housekeeping, electrical/construction, alterations and repairs, rostering of crews and loco’s, treatment and analysis of water used by the loco’s, health and safety.
Members can choose to get involved in any or all of these three areas.
Members aspiring to footplate duties will have the opportunity to fill vacancies in the cleaning roster and carry out cleaning duties under the supervision of the allocated fireman; if operational circumstances allow, they may be invited to join the crew on one of the journeys during the day in order to be introduced to fireman's duties.
Some of the responsibilities of footplate crew include:
- Cleaners - ashing out, cleaning & polishing, cutting firewood & rags, bringing coal forward.
- Firemen - duties also include lighting up, bringing into steam, operational duties include firing, signals, shunting etc.
- Driver - loco preparation i.e. oiling up, driving, signals and overall safety etc.
The department runs a full machine shop, to make/fabricate specialist parts that are unable to be sourced elsewhere. Anyone with previous experience of machining, whether it be degree, apprenticeship or work experience, is welcome to register their interest and may be considered to join the specialist team within the department.
Between everyday maintenance, operations and long-term restoration projects, the department has an extensive range of activities that require a wide range of skills.
General Department activities
The needs of the SLD and running engines are never ending and run on a constant cycle throughout the year. General department activity can fall into numerous categories including:
- General Cleaning and Maintenance of the locomotives and the facilities
- Working with footplate crew on engine preparation and disposal
- Overhauling of the locomotives as and when required
- Welding, painting and/or other engineering and hands-on trades
Any skill level is welcome. The above tasks can often be dirty and heavy or hard work; however, the department will not ask volunteers to undertake anything outside their capabilities.
For anyone wishing to work in the machine shop, experience in the engineering industry or with an active hobby in model engineering or similar is desirable. Experience would include any of the below:
Time served engineering apprenticeship or the modern equivalent i.e. modern apprenticeship.
Qualified engineers i.e. HNC/Degree, who would like to get more involved with the hands on aspect of engineering.
Hobbyists who have machining and hands on skills
Engineers who have not done formal training but can demonstrate hands on experience in the various engineering skills
Skills would cover the following: Hands on experience using the various tools/equipment of the trade: turning, milling, grinding, welding, bench fitting etc.
Anyone wishing to join the machine shop without experience can still register an interest.
The SLD also welcomes independent owning groups within the railway, and department members may wish to work on these projects occasionally, if the needs of the department permit.
For those members with ambitions of becoming footplate crew, the following should be noted:
No previous experience:
Volunteers who wish to pursue this route are very welcome. The first step to becoming footplate crew is to demonstrate by attendance a willingness to tackle the general steam department duties as listed above. This commitment would normally be for at least three years but could be longer as trainees already in the system move through the system.
- Will need to pass a medical with the GWSR’s railway doctors.
- Should be aware shifts start at 06.30 in the morning when on rostered turns starting as cleaner
- May be working in inclement weather: rain, snow, wind etc.
- Will likely get dirty whilst emptying ashpans, smokeboxes etc. having received the appropriate training
- Will be asked to help with preparatory operations tasks such as wood cutting for lighting up engines, rather than travelling on the footplate.
Previously Experienced crews:
We welcome those that have had previous experience either on the National Network or another Heritage Railway. However, this will not guarantee immediate transfer onto the footplate at the GWSR. In the interests of fairness, all those wishing to become footplate crew have to demonstrate by attendance a willingness to join in with general steam department duties as listed above, regardless of footplate experience level.
The current waiting list for footplate duties for previously experienced crew is around two years but could be longer as trainees already in the system will take priority. This enables the management and training teams to manage competency levels in accordance with the need of GWSR operations.
- Documented evidence of previous experience is helpful and references may be required.
- Where the Steam department management and training teams agree that a volunteer may be eligible to jump the training queue due to previous experience, then an automatic downgrade will apply; i.e. a previous driver elsewhere will become a fireman and a fireman will become a cleaner. Once in the training system, progress will then rely on attendance and aptitude.
We look forward to welcoming you.
CURRENT VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES:
We welcome people with engineering and machinist skills and those who have a general desire to join the Steam team. There is a training regime for footplate duties that you will be expected to undertake in line with the current waiting list if that is your aspiration. Please see here to learn how to become a volunteer,
For a day-to-day view of our activities, please go to the Steam Loco Department blog here.
You can read about one new volunteer's experience out on the footplate here