Bite-size driver experiences

Gareth Evans talks to eight heritage railways operating low-cost driver experience courses for £20 and under and learns about their approaches and what they can offer would-be participants in the hope of inspiring others to ‘have a go.’

You’ve admired locomotives large and small at heritage lines, but have you ever wondered what it would be like to be in the driving seat? Not everyone has a three-figure sum for an intensive driver experience course or the time to commit to climb the ranks to become a fully-fledged volunteer locomotive crew member at a heritage line.

HR’s assistant editor, Gareth Evans is seen at the controls of Rocks by Rail’s Thomas Hill Vanguard 4wDH No. 186V Mr D. SARAH CARTER

Fortunately however, a number of heritage railways across the country offer low-cost driver experience courses, ranging in price from £5 to £20. As well as whetting appetites for a more in-depth experience in due course, such ‘taster’ sessions provide an affordable birthday or Christmas gift for a loved one – or maybe a treat for one’s good self.

For railways, they can be useful cash generators for minimal outlay, providing an unforgettable experience for participants and generating invaluable goodwill in the process – perhaps eliciting donations or volunteers as a result. Former industrial diesel shunters appear to be the traction of choice among many more embryonic lines, but others such as the Vale of Rheidol offer the chance to drive a charming steam locomotive for £5, while visitors to Cambrian Heritage Railways can try their hand on a class 101 DMU at Llynclys for £20.

Vale of Rheidol

The Vale of Rheidol Railway began offering driver for a fiver five years ago.

“It’s part of our educational programme for people to learn how an engine works and to have a go,” explained Debbie Morgan, VoR marketing manager.

“We also wanted to make use of our smaller engines in the collection – and it gives people the opportunity to see them working too.”

A popular attraction at the Vale of Rheidol Railway’s Devil’s Bridge station on selected dates in July and August, will be the opportunity to drive or ride on the footplate of Quarry Hunslet 0-4-0ST Margaret. VALE OF RHEIDOL RAILWAY

‘Quarry’ Hunslet 0-4-0ST Margaret (No. 605 of 1894) is currently allocated to the duty, which takes place in the siding at Devil’s Bridge station between July 16 and August 30 on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays – plus Saturdays in August, between the hours of 11am and 5pm.

Visitors can drive the veteran Penrhyn Quarry Railway locomotive for a donation of £5 or ride on the footplate for £3. All funds raised go towards the on-going restoration of locomotive No. 7, which has been out of service since 1998.

Participants need to be of good health and deemed fit and able. Children may participate with parental consent, but must be supervised – and the driver may ask for a parent/guardian to accompany.

Read more in Issue 243 of HR – on sale now!

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