Steam Locomotive Department

article by: SJO 



steam locomotive departmentThe Steam Locomotive Department (SLD) is tasked with providing both locomotives and crews in order to meet the timetabled needs of the Railway. As a member of the Steam Locomotive Department, volunteers will be expected to work in the Department on a reasonably regular basis. Volunteers who aspire to become enginemen can progress from being a Department Member, to Cleaner, Fireman and finally onto Driver. However, the Department also welcomes volunteers whose only passion is maintenance or restoration.


Roles and Responsibilities

Member - 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:


  • Locomotive Footplate
    • 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.
  • Maintenance
    • Replacement of fire bars, brick arch and brake blocks, mechanical fitness to run, boiler certification, calibration of gauges, ordering of spares etc.
  • Restoration
    • Repair and manufacture of locomotive parts i.e machining, fitting, fabrication, welding etc.
    • Other areas 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.


Those 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 will be able to join the crew on one of the journeys during the day in order to be introduced to fireman's duties. During the rest of the day the member should expect to assist with other duties around the yard. Members who wish to become enginemen will be required to pass a medical examination with the Railway's doctor before travelling on the footplate on a regular basis.



Promotion to the footplate, starting with the grade of Cleaner is by selection on merit. Consideration will be given to commitment to the Department and the Railway as a whole, reliability, fitness for engineman duties, aptitude shown when on the footplate. There is no age limit for promotion to cleaner, but a degree of physical fitness is required as a day out on the footplate can be quite arduous. Trainee Cleaners will undergo formal classroom teaching covering the workings of the steam locomotive, rules, signals, fireman's duties, failures and emergencies. At the end of the training they will be required to pass a written examination. Cleaners will also be required to undertake a Shunting and Yard Safety course and pass the associated written examination.


Other Information

The typical day on-shed as a member of the department is a very varied one. Your day all depends on how much you want to get involved and what you want to progress with. For example, if you want to get on the footplate you may be starting at 6am and finishing some 12 hours later, committing yourself to a day on which you have been rostered; whereas, if you're a restoration fanatic, then you may be starting at 10 am on any of the department's working days, normally Wednesdays and Saturdays. Duties and tasks can be absolutely anything which helps with the running of the Department. So, one day you may be going out on the footplate or you could be helping to clean an engine, changing a grate, breaking up some firewood, moving sleepers, some fencing or even making the tea! It all just depends what is happening on shed the day you are there.


Working around steam locomotives can be dirty and potentially hazardous; for these reasons you will need to wear appropriate clothing: cotton overalls, safety boots and 'riggers' gloves. The Railway will provide specialist PPE such as ear defenders and face-masks.



There is no training available at the moment, so applicants will be put 'on hold' until training places become available.  This is likely to be early in the New Year.  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


September 2020