It has been a little while since I was at Kirklees Light Railway, and I have to say, I have missed everything about it. Last month I was told that I would be put through Guard training, something I didn’t think would happen for a little while, even with being told this, I was very surprised when this month’s roster came in last week – out of the 4 days I am in over the month, I am going to be Guard training on 3 of them.
Excited, I couldn’t wait for today to arrive, I was excited to find out if I had picked up enough, or read enough of the rule book to actually know what was going on.
As the morning arrived, excitement turned into nerves. Who was I going to be training with, would I get it right, could I make the right decisions.
I signed in and headed out onto the platform. The carriages had been pulled out for the day, and I met my mentor for the day in the Guards van, having arrived a few minutes earlier. I was shown around the carriages, most of the things I was being told I had picked up in dribs and drabs over the weeks, but this morning really helped cement everything and gave me an opportunity to ask about the finer details.
We had a safety check sheet to fill out, my mentor showed me everything I need to check. It ranged from door handles to hinges, lights to the PA system and everything inbetween. Our checks done, it was nearly time to leave.
Checking tickets was a chance to interact with visitors, having a fleeting few words with many of them and wishing them a good day.
I stepped into the guard van while my mentor blew the whistle and waved off the train before stepping inside with me.
I was talked through the depart procedure, including the first PA announcement, watching to make sure the points are set correctly after we had driven over them – there are no computerised, motor driven points here, which means that if they are set incorrectly, the train would have to stop and the Guard or driver jump out and set them to the correct position. There are, obviously, strict safety controls in place, such as section control on the line, which, ultimately us, in the Guard van must monitor closely and take action if certain conditions are not met.
So, anyway, the train rumbled on, and we got talking about the process of Guard training, what is involved longer term, how many sessions I could expect, what the final tests involve, known as passing out. On the face of it, it seemed to be quite straight forwards, however, then we got talking about simulated problems that would be thrown at me.
During the training and passing out, I would be subject to issues such as a driver issuing the distress signal, a passenger opening a door while the train is moving, points being set incorrectly. We started talking about how to deal with particular issues, and in all honesty, it is mainly common sense, but, that is easy to say when you are sat there, planning in your mind – when things go wrong and you just have to act on instinct, and make the correct decision – that is what they are looking out for.
The journey takes around 25 minutes between Clayton West and Shelley stations, and pretty soon we were arriving at our destination.
The stop over at Shelley was about 15 minutes. In this time we had to turn around the train – quite an attraction with people gathering around the turn table – top up her water and re-couple her to the other end of the carriages.
Luckily, I had been involved in some of this procedure in the past weeks, and I could do this with very little trouble. A few pointers were given to me, such as where to stand to be between the moving train and passengers at all time, and to walk in front of the train to give assurance to the driver that nobody is in front.
We were soon on our way back to Clayton West, very similar procedures as coming up to Shelley, and we got chance to talk more.
We had another trip up to Shelley and back, with me doing a few duties, before, back at Clayton West, I was given a whistle, the flag and told, I was in control. This was nerve wrecking. I was told not to worry, if I did anything wrong or forgot anything, my mentor would jump in and correct.
I attached the train to the carriages, I was getting quite good at that by this time, did the checks on the carriages and checked the tickets.
When the time for departure was coming up, about a minute or so to go, the procedure was to check nobody was running down for the train from the car parks, and finally, get permission from the ticket office that we were clear to depart.
Once all this was done, I headed to the back of the train, checking all doors as I went, and stood at the back of the train. Whistle in mouth, flag in hand, I blew to get the drivers attention and held up the green flag. The driver acknowledged with a blast of the train whistle and I climbed inside the Guard van, closing the doors and taking my seat.
The train slowly started to move out of the station. I had done it, the train had departed the station on my signal, and I realised that I hadn’t had my mentor chip in once, I had done everything correctly.
With a feeling of achievement, I picked up the PA mic and started the spiel, reading from a sheet stuck in front of us – and that feeling of achievement quickly fell away as I made a right royal mess of it. I don’t know why, but nerves got the better of me, and realisation that this was really quite important and also I was talking to all passengers at once. I can talk to passengers as I go down collecting the tickets, but this felt unnatural to me.
I got the information across, but I could only imagine what the passengers thought. Oh well, first one done, and actually, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
All the way up to Shelley, I was trying to put into practice everything I had seen. Always aware that I was being watched, obviously for good reasons, but made me more nervous. By the time we reached Shelley, again, I realised that, my mentor didn’t correct me once. As we pulled into Shelley, my final job was to hang out of the window – yes, after all those years being told to keep your head inside the carriage, today I was permitted to hang out of the window – to keep a watch down the entire train, my hand on the brake lever, just incase anybody decided to jump out before the train stopped.
The train came to a stop, the passengers all got out and I felt a sense of achievement.
I did the same for the remaining services during the day, each time taking note of new things, landmarks where things were, a big part of this training is learning the track, and always knowing where the train is, just incase there is an emergency and I have to inform people where exactly we were.
I was chuffed to bits with my first day Guard training. It turns out that I had been so confident, they had talked about throwing in a test scenario for me with the driver whistling for assistance. I got lucky – the train they had planned to do this on was full – but, after what I thought was a few ropey moments, that sense of achievement as I was walking back to the car was quite a high.
I figured that for the next time, if I have learnt the script and don’t have to rely on reading it, it would flow better and be more natural. I took a photo of the script of announcements now, taken as we put the carriages back away, and now I am practicing it, I am also reading up on the rule book, memorising the hand signals.
If you would like to hear my Guard voice on a train while I am still training – my next day is on 23rd July, and I cannot wait for it.