From the start, I apologise, I really do. I have been looking forward to this day for almost a month, from the moment I realised that I would be once gain guard training. This day was different. This day I would be guard to Katie, the newest addition to the Kirklees Light Railway fleet. So, I apologise for any deviation I may take to talk about Katie.
So, third day got off to the usual start. Carriages waiting for me, I knew exactly what I was doing this time.
Putting my bag in the guard’s van, I headed back inside the workshop to grab a clipboard, pen and guard’s inspection sheet. I had been shown this twice already in recent weeks, and today, I wanted to at least make a start, perhaps not filling out the paperwork, not being a qualified guard, but try and go through the motions nonetheless.
Exiting from the workshop, I bumped into another volunteer who asked, ‘Are you Martin?’. Replying ‘Yes’, he introduced himself as the person I would be guarding with today.
We did the pleasantries and as I handed over the paperwork, he said no, this was for me to fill out. So, first things first, walking the length of the train, open each door, check hinges and check it closes and latches properly. We had 5 carriages today, 5 doors on each side, which means 50 doors to check, each with at least 2 hinges, that’s 100 hinges, plus the rest, 50 door handles, inside and out – by the end of the train your hand feels numb.
As we went down the train, all the ‘communication cords’ are tested. These are cords which run the entire length of the carriage, above the doors, which if pulled, will release the air from the brake system and apply them, bringing the train to a halt – in my mind, this conjures images of wheels locked up, sparks coming from the tracks, passengers being thrown forwards uncontrollably – turns out this Hollywood image in my mind is quite a long way from the truth – more on that later!
After this, we checked all the face plates on the couplers, the couplers themselves and all the associated pipes and cables. The PA system was checked, which always feels a little awkward, calling ‘testing’ down the system while another goes and checks the speakers are working.
A few more bits and bobs done (I forget off the top of my head the complete list!), and it was time for that super fun task – cleaning!
There is a sandpit in the play area at Shelly, and there is a joke, which as time goes on, becomes less a joke, more complete truth. That joke being, each year they take a ton of sand to refill the sand pit, and throughout the year, they bring it back, bit by bit. As you go down the carriages sweeping them out, it is quite amazing exactly how much sand gets brought back.
We finished cleaning with about 15 minutes to spare, so got the important stuff done, ordered some sandwiches, got a drink and started helping people onto the train. 5 minutes to go until we set off, we walked the train, checking tickets and ensuring all doors were properly closed, and finally, stood at the back of the train, blew the whistle, held up the green flag, and off we went.
The first trip was mainly controlled by my mentor, and unlike last time, I was chomping on the bit to take over.
We made it to Shelley with no problems, and set off for our return. In the back of my mind I knew that today would be the day that problems would happen, either real or simulated – hopefully simulated, we never obviously want a real problem to happen, and I was informed that after this run, my mentor would back off and go and sit in the next carriage, ready to help, but now was the time I was expecting something.
Let’s talk about Katie a little bit shall we – the deviation from the day I promised!
Katie joined Kirklees Light Railway in April 2015. A 60 year old loco, she had been running for a long time at Fairbourne in Wales. She was restored through the 1990’s at Windmills Farm Railway, and arrived on the back of a low loader at Kirklees Light Railway to much fanfare.
I had seen her plenty of times, but a ride on her has always avoided me. To be Guard to Katie today I felt was a real treat. I have in my mind, my favourite list of engines, and I will be honest, it’s a close call between Katie and Hawk, but Katie takes the prize, simply for her looks.
Anyway, what was the best part of being on Katie was something few, if no visitors will ever get to see. With the requirement to lean out of the window as a guard to make sure the train is OK, through the tunnel, due to the short chimney, the smoke rising, in the dark is highlighted by the fire below in the boiler – it looks absolutely fantastic. I would love to get a photo of that, however, the logistics and skill required to do so makes it difficult to impossible to achieve.
So, onwards, and the second trip of the day, and again, this went by with no problems, except we were running around 5 minutes late, much to the annoyance of the Engineering Manager, but we really couldn’t help that, and we made that time back up at Shelley when we managed to complete a turn around in record time, while still being courteous to visitors and doing it safely – having a dual Guard train has its advantages.
The third trip however, that was the ‘fun’ one. We left Clayton West just about on time, headed up through Cuckoo’s Nest Station and Skelmanthorpe, passed the train coming the other way, and pretty soon the tunnel came into view. The tunnel, I am pretty sure I haven’t mentioned before, but it is the longest narrow gauge tunnel in the UK, passing under a couple of gardens, a field and touches a small housing estate, and goes for a little over 1,500 feet. Inside the tunnel it is dark, I was a little curious on one trip, and wondered exactly how dark, covering the light with my hand, it is very dark, and guess what, my trainer decided he was going to pull the communications cord while we were passing through.
This brings me back to the Hollywood vision of emergency stopping a train. My first clue to something wrong was the noise, it didn’t sound right, I have been through this tunnel some 50 times now, and I know the noises, and then it hit me, that is the sound of the brakes, the squeal of the brake pads fighting the engine to bring it to a stop.
This was confirmed by glancing at the pressure gauge and seeing the air in the system was way down. I threw open the brake lever on my end, speeding up the air loss and hung out of the window to ensure that the driver was aware. Katie had stopped making her usual noises, and in the dark was confident the driver was aware and had stopped pulling. As the train gently came to a halt, no sparks, no passengers falling on top of each other, just a nice controlled stop, I picked up the PA system and announced that everything is OK, and to bear with us.
As I picked up the lamp, I stepped out of the guard van, slightly stumbling over the uneven ground, but determined that I would sort this. In the distance, somewhere on the train there was some distress I could hear, not to worry, as long as doors were not opened, I would deal with that upon my return to the Guard van.
I knew exactly what had happened, it was no real surprise, I knew which cord had been pulled, and instantly I found it, despite the fact that the lamp is not very powerful. Resetting the cord, I ensured that the car which the cord had been pulled was OK and headed back to the Guard van. Here I think I fumbled around, I turned the handle on the lamp to show the green filter, and I am pretty sure I picked up the flag for some reason. I blew the whistle and for some reason waved the flag in one hand and showed the green light in the other – flag would have been impossible to see in the dark, but the important thing was done – the green light was shown, and was greeted by a toot of Katie’s whistle.
Jumping on the PA system I announced that this was just a training exercise and some jokey comment about my trainer being a bit mean. We were once again off, and I was feeling quite relaxed, I was proud of myself. I had been told a number of times that it is all about keeping my cool and being able to come across as not panicking and to be in control – even though I was sort of expecting it, I had started to let my guard down a little and was starting to forget about it, just making sure that everything was normal, I was expecting everything to be normal.
Coming out of the tunnel it was like it never happened, and we got to Shelley with no more drama.
At Shelley we had a short debrief, in which my mentor told me that I had handled it well, and that he was watching to ensure I wasn’t flustered afterwards. We turned around the loco, got her full of water again and attached her to the train.
We set off about on time and I expected something, I described my senses much like a cat at this time, I was jumping back and forth on each side of the train, watching for a door to open, something I now expected to happen – surely they wouldn’t pull the communication cord a second time.
We got through the tunnel and I felt that the train was rocking a little, and thought the speed was a little high. In this situation I have a lever to drop air from the brake system and slow the train. I had my hand on the lever thinking if it gets worse, I would drop some air, at this point the driver pulled the whistle in the indication that he needs help. I dropped some air and the train slowed. I peered out to make sure everything was OK before I brought the train to a stop and the driver looked back to say thanks.
OK, second test passed, this one no passenger was aware of, and we continued our journey back to Clayton West.
There were two more runs to Shelley and back to do, and to say I was alert was an understatement, and indeed was a little disappointed when nothing else happened, but at least I had had that experience, and another little bit on the final way down where we had trouble contacting Clayton West, and it was good to see my mentor and driver deal with that, and I know how that should be dealt with too.
When we arrived back at Clayton West for the final time I was fully in control of shunting the carriages back into the shed. I did the necessary checks and waved in the train, I wasn’t sure if I should signal all the way down, but better be safe, best to be on the side of caution and in the end, had a numb arm from waving constantly. There was one point where I was watching the back of the train and disappeared from the drivers view, and as in the rule book, the driver immediately brought the train to a stop – I knew what had happened and came back into view – the driver passing my test – obviously it was a test, not me walking out of view on accident!
I closed up the train, put the batteries on charge and that was that, my day was done. My trainer told me that I had done well and that in all honesty I was just about ready for my test – now that scared me, I am pretty sure that there is still a long way to go, but it made me confident that I was doing what I needed to do. I know there are a few other bits I need to master, and I am training again next weekend, and I have a list of questions to hopefully get everything under my belt before more and more practice.
The last thing I will add is that I have noticed the number of photos and videos being taken of the trains being turned – and as a pivitol role in this, I have to wonder when my image on Facebook, Trip Advisor or general Google search will appear – come on people, I want to see a photo of me doing hard work, not sitting behind a desk doing the day job!