Playing Trains – Again

You may think I spend too much time playing trains in Wales but I don’t care! For reasons I will reveal in a future post there is an imperative to do as much as possible this season.

The truth is that with this last winters lockdown and my bad leg playing up and taking an age to get itself sorted again I got a massive dose of CBA (can’t be @rsed) which others might call depression. I was questioning if I wanted to carry on driving or if I could even be bothered. There were other forces at play too.

In the end in a moment of positivity I said yes to a call for a driver to cover three days back in June before I had time to talk myself out of it. I am pleased to say the second of those three days reminded my why I enjoy it.   On that day I had the loco manager with me for my routine, once every three years, practical assessment which I passed with flying colours.

That isn’t what made the difference though.  On the engine with me I had a fireman, who we’ll call WK, and a trainee fireman, we’ll call him HK. To make room for the assessor the fireman went in the train leaving the trainee to do the firing. He started nervously but with some coaching, mostly about planning ahead, he grew in confidence.  For the second trip, assessor gone, I wanted the trainee fireman to continue but could see that the actual fireman would want to do something having ridden on the cushions for all of the first trip.  Easy solution, teach the fireman to drive.

That made me realise that I get a lot of satisfaction from taking someone with merit and encouraging them. As it was the two of them worked the train, with instruction, right through to putting it away at the end of the day.

Now that’s a long intro to this last two weeks at the railway but it was a visit with three trainee drivers under my wing at times as well as some driving on my own.

Most mornings there were too many engines around and it became somewhat chaotic. For this picture I was supervising trainee driver TE on the first departure of the day with Blanche.  130 was waiting to shunt its train to the other platform and Merddin was arriving with the stock for a later train. Lyd then turned up to add to the confusion.

This two weeks was largely about trainee driver Clare. Some 8 or 9 years ago Clare was thrown in the deep end preparing a double Fairlie when its actual fireman Matt, her boyfriend, had to go and fire a different engine. From that point on Clare worked her way up through the grades as Cleaner, then Fireman and then as Trainee driver whilst also starring on TV.

Matt & Clare are close friends of mine and over the years I’ve seen Matt work through the grades and as we used to go to the railway together he was sort of my regular fireman.

For a couple of summers Clare was also my regular fireman both on the FR and at Beamish.

All was going swimmingly towards Clare being a driver last year then Covid happened. No trains to Blaenau, no trainees on engines and real problem with succession.

This year things relaxed a bit but still no trains to Blaenau. Until the last two weeks. It had been decreed that some Blaenau experience was required.

Here we are with Clare firing and me driving on the KPE for our first back to Blaenau of the season. (I went once last year so I didn’t have to do the refresher training).

Now here’s a thing. The headboard may say its the “Back to Blaenau” train but the loco roster says its the KPE. So what is the KPE?

Its the Kurdish Pasty Express



The only reason crews take these trains to Blaenau is to visit the Model Bakery  and to get a Kurdish pasty. Its a spicy concoction in a bread based wrapper and, if you like spicy stuff is a sought after delicacy.



I did get to do a bit of driving myself as here driving Blanche on to 100mph straight.

Then it was back to training and supervision. Tuesday I was stuck in the corner of Merddin Emrys’s cab as Clare drove the trip to Blaenau for lunch. That trip was unpleasant despite the company as it was a warm day. Next day I was driving Blanche (as above) whilst Clare went to Blaenau again, this time with the boss supervising. She came back without him so either she passed or he was too terrified to get back on.

She must have passed as on Thursday she was let loose on her own with this train. The fireman? The previously mentioned HK also now qualified.

Now Clare will probably be mortified that I have singled her out but the thing I have learnt this year is that the bit I enjoy and which keeps me wanting to do this is teaching those that want to learn and with Clare I’ve been involved right from the start of her volunteering through to her qualifying as a driver.

We’ve had some fun along the way. At the start the whole girl doing a mans job thing she got from the public who didn’t know how to describe her role didn’t sit well with her. When they tried to make a joke of it it usually turned into an example of `when in a hole stop digging’ but we turned it around and made it a bit of a sport of trying to get the public to arrive at the right answer.  To be clear, Clare has always been adamant that the job was fireman but now its got much easier.

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3 thoughts on “Playing Trains – Again

  1. Congratulations Clare and the other partly anonymous qualifiers always good to see another generation enjoying the job.
    I always enjoyed the training part of the Signalling job and glad to say several of my trainees are still here and good friends.

  2. And VERY well done to all concerned !

    I had plenty of the same thing in the 1980/90s as the guard at the other end of the train …

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