28th May 2021
We’re continuing on our journey to discover some of the most unusual jobs around the English Riviera and today we’re hopping aboard the Dartmouth Steam Railway.
Say hello to Jack: Operations Manager at the Dartmouth Steam Railway. The Dartmouth Steam Railway from Paignton runs for seven miles along the spectacular English Riviera coastline to Goodrington Sands, Churston and through the wooded slopes bordering the Dart estuary and on to Kingswear. Spectacular scenery is abundant with seascapes right across Lyme Bay to Portland Bill on clear days. There are regular trains throughout the year. Its best to check the website for timetables.
My name’s Jack and I’m the Railway Operations Manager at the Dartmouth Steam Railway – in simple terms I’m effectively the Fat Controller’s cousin! I’ve been with the railway since 2012 starting just after my Grandma retired in 2011 after nearly 20 years of being a Booking Clerk at Kingswear Station. It was fair to say I was a lanky annoying spotty teenager when I first started and not much has changed… apart from the spots thankfully! I worked for the railway part time for many years whilst studying at university completing a bachelors and a master’s degree. I mostly worked as a Guard on the train but found myself in other roles from time to time before becoming Operations Manager in 2020… excellent timing!
As Operations Manager two days are never the same but the most regular day would be a Thursday. We start at Churston with a meeting at 08:00, this is between the various people from the key departments of the railway including Workshop, PWAY (Permanent Way – they maintain all things track) and the Managing Director. We discuss the plan for the next working week which can be confirming timetables, arranging special movements including freight and charter trains, locomotive roster and any other random topics. Once we agree everything I then head up to Paignton and go into the office, stopping off on route to see how the locomotive crew are getting on with preparing the locomotive(s) for the days service.
Once in the office I write the weekly operating notice, this being a document which states what was agreed at the meeting earlier in the morning and is distributed to all staff and some external organisations. Normally by the time I get round to printing and distributing it to everyone I get a phone call saying the plan for next week has changed, some colourful words are then exchanged.
By now it’s near 10:00 and the first train is ready to depart, I do my bit by standing in the doorway of the office posing awkwardly watching the Guard and Ticket Inspector make sure the train is ready to start, ensuring all passengers are aboard, all doors are closed, and brake test completed. Once they are happy and the signaller clears the starting signal at Paignton, the guard blows their whistle and waves the green flag, the driver acknowledges giving a blast on the locomotive whistle, the train is underway – normally on time too with the additional help I provide.
The day typically goes by fairly smoothly, I’m normally the Duty Manager on the days I work, meaning I have the joyous task of responding to operational incidents if and when they occur. Usually it’s simple stuff like signal failures or something a little more severe such as a lineside fire. Thankfully these events are rare and we’re well-rehearsed in dealing with them. I wonder if future Jack is now regretting he wrote that last sentence?
Lunch time hits and the train arrives back at Paignton, the prep crew who were getting the locomotive ready first thing in the morning help to put the train through the carriage washing machine with our diesel shunter. This is one area where I can be seen to be looking busy, I sometimes act as Shunter directing the driver with the movements required and how fast and slow they should be moving the train whilst also keeping an eye on the platform and on the operator of the washing station. This process normally takes around 30mins, just enough time to get the train back in the platform, get passengers onboard, steam locomotive attached and underway on time for 14:10 departure.
The rest of the day is the real highlight, I have a few hours of filling out a variety of paperwork including risk assessments, memos and rosters. I also plan training and exams for operational staff in roles and responding to emails, I don’t want to make it sound too exciting. Once the last train has arrived back at Paignton at 17:35 I get a call from our signal box at Britannia Crossing (next to the higher car ferry in Kingswear) and they will confirm the line is clear of trains and that the box is now closed, I then take possession of the railway overnight until the next morning.
As I said at the start, every day is different. Some days I can be found performing the duties of Guard, it is nice to get out and about talking to passengers and taking in the views as the train travels between Paignton and Kingswear. On days I’m not operational I get involved in various meetings, the health and safety meeting is a real highlight. Hm.
I do love the job because of the variety of tasks I get to do, also I head a great team of people who make for a great atmosphere to work in… well as long as they don’t come to me with the words ‘it’s broken’.