Unannounced Guard exam day

It has been a little while since I posted an update, so here are a number of days all rolled into one.

The rosta came around last month and showed that most of this month I would be guard training. All except one day where I was due to be driving the little train, lets start on the Little Train.

It was fun the first few times I drove the train, and it still can be, but on a normal non-event day, it can really drag.

Still, I was going to be at Kirklees Light Railway for the day, and I am still really enjoying the experience. I turned up and very few people were milling around. I knew that I could get everything prepared, but not actually lift the train onto the rails, it is far too heavy to lift alone.

I took the train engine and its batteries out to the track on its small trolley which really does have a mind of its own, no matter how you pull it, it always managers to go somewhere else. I opened up the shed where the carriages are kept, putting onto the track the drivers seat which is small and light enough for a single person lift.

After this, I went to go and find some help. The drivers were preparing their engines, the guards were preparing the coaches, I obviously couldn’t rope in help from those at this time, there was nobody else knocking around.

It was about 15 minutes later, and one of the drivers had gone to change into fresh overalls came walking past. He kindly offered to help do the lift, a few minutes later we were on the tracks, complete with a carriage.

The batteries are 2 car batteries linked together. I mounted these inside the engine and tested it all worked – flicking the power switch, the train came to life, and I let it drive itself around to the carriages which were half way around the track.

Coupling up the carriages, we were ready for the day. By this time, a few visitors were starting to arrive for the first train of the day. They were more interested in getting to the train for the ride up to Shelley than a ride on my little train, but it’s the way it always goes.

I took the opportunity to do a litter pick around the circuit, picking up yesterdays discarded ice cream wrappers and other dropped items.

The day, in part, dragged as I suspected it would, however, there were times where it became quite busy and a few birthday parties too which livened things up. Experience says that you just make the most of the day, keep smiling, talking to people who pass by and generally be thankful the sun was shining.

The day was soon over and charging 50p per go, my cash bag actually held quite a bit, leaving quite a feeling of actually helping bring in some money to run the railway.

The next time I was at the railway I was again Guard Training. I went expecting a full time member of staff with me, and had a list of questions in my mind ready for asking. My carriages were waiting for me when I arrived, and with my trainer nowhere to be seen, I started cracking on with the checks and cleaning.

Still a back breaking process, but I am getting this down now and confident I can complete it alone in the time that I have – usually about 90 minutes.

A different member of staff came out to say that he would be with me shortly – a little surprise, but no sweat. We were ready on time, and departing just a few minutes late, not too bad for the first train of the day which usually has plenty of people wanting to jump on at the very last minute. My trainer jumped into the carriage in front, leaving me to get on with it, and soon enough we were rolling out of the station.

Being a guard means watching the entire train as it pulls out of the station, and because the train turns a bend, I like to lean quite far out to catch anything that might happen. As I did so, I caught glimpse of my written test with my trainer, even though I couldn’t read it from this distance, I knew instantly it was mine as there was a formatting glitch on one of the pages I recognised.

At this point I remembered that this trainer was actually one of the examiners. Today would have to be flawless, I was looking for pointers on how to pass, and the less I had, the quicker I could answer those requests we sometimes get for extra guards.

So, the day went slowly, it dragged as I bit my nails. On the return journey he asked me a question and I got it wrong. Nerves were getting the better of me. I knew the answer, in my mind I had it, but the correct words never came out. As soon as it was explained to me, I remembered – and it is something that I certainly won’t ever forget after that!

We had 5 journeys on this day, and after trip 3 my trainer disappeared. We were 10 minutes late and I got called into the booking office. The staff there quite excited to tell me to take the train on my own, and I would be watched shunting when I got back. She mentioned that today could be the day I passed the guard test.

The words ringing in my ears, I set off, checking the doors and setting off with the train, for the first time on my own.

The next two trips went by very quickly, and we were soon back at Clayton West shunting.

Nerves once again got the better of me and I forgot a hand signal I knew I knew. Once reminded I was off again, but I was certain I hadn’t done enough.

Everything packed away and we had a talk. Some tips such as making the hand gestures bigger so as to not be confusing. I was then asked if I am confident enough to take it on my own. I knew I was, I knew I could guard a train, deal with emergencies and remember the pointers given to me. I replied I was confident, I assured that that forgotten hand signal would be forever burned into my mind, and assured him that should anything happen that I was unsure about, I could ask absolutely anybody for help. Being a guard, and indeed working anywhere on the railway is all about communication, and as long as we all have good communication between ourselves, everything would be good, and that is something I haven’t struggled with.

 

I walked away from that day exhausted, but never happier. Not 6 months after starting to volunteer here at Kirklees Light Railway, I was a qualified guard. I could only smile thinking about when my first guard turn would come along.

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