A Day In The Life: Railway Volunteer

Shutterstock / Peter R Foster IDMA © railway volunteer

We first published this interview with a railway volunteer in May last year, in one of our Specials.

We liked it so much, we’ve decided to share it with you here!

I’ve been interested in railways since childhood and volunteered briefly on the Bluebell Railway in my teens.

The Watercress Line is closer to where I live. As I enjoyed visits to the line with my children when they were small, it was the obvious choice for volunteering following my retirement from teaching 12 years ago.

If I’m on the platform team at Alresford, my day starts well before the running of trains, with checks on cleanliness within the toilets, along the platforms and station area.

This involves sweeping up litter, emptying rubbish bins and assisting the guard with the preparation of the train carriages.

I spend one day a week working as station foreman at Alresford, or signalman in one of the line’s three mechanical signal boxes.

Working in a signal box is very satisfying

As a keen amateur photographer, I share my railway shots with the marketing and retail departments. I am also picture editor with the society’s magazine, “The Mid Hants News”.

As a signalman, my day frequently begins with the polishing of brass and checking dials and indicators to ensure the equipment is working correctly and safely.

Working in a signal box is very satisfying. The old technology, still fit for purpose, is historically fascinating.

Also, I find being closely involved with the running of trains and the operation of a safe railway enjoyable.

In a mechanical signal box there are levers that control signals and points which are all interlocked. This ensures, for example, that a signal can’t be cleared to let a train proceed unless the points in the track are set in the correct position.

I always enjoy watching the steam-hauled trains passing the signal box.

On the Watercress Line we take pride in looking smart, wearing uniforms like those worn by employees of the old Southern Railway, or early British Railways in the late Forties/early Fifties.

It fits in so well with the ambience of a heritage railway.

The railway has always been a magnet for young people and children

The railway has a very good structure for supporting and training its army of volunteers. It is vitally important to keep our visitors safe.

The railway has always been a magnet for young people and children. Especially during events such as War On The Line, when we go back to the 1940s to welcome WWII re-enactors and visitors of all ages in period costume.

Small children come to the Watercress Line to see Thomas The Tank Engine and his friends at Easter and in August. They also come during December to meet Father Christmas on our Santa Specials.

I always enjoy seeing families taking a memorable trip together on the railway.

I’m proud to be part of an amazing team of volunteers who work very hard to help our visitors to enjoy their experience on our railway.

Our priority is to keep them safe. But we also give them a warm welcome, provide them with useful information and help them feel a sense of nostalgia.

After a busy day on the railway, I drive home to Selsey for  a nice evening with my wife.

For more fantastic features from “The People’s Friend”, click here.

Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.