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Railway Volunteers

26 March 2019

Here at The Historic Dockyard Chatham, there are a variety of different volunteer opportunities. One of which is to work on the Railway that runs through most of the site. We caught up with some of our Railway volunteers to find out why and what they do on the Railway…

There are 16 active railway volunteers, many live in the Medway area but others travel in from as far away as Margate, Faversham and South-East London. A small number of them have a railway industry background in their working lives, but the majority don’t and are learning all about the Railway through working with it.

We spoke to one of our volunteers Andy…

So why do you volunteer?

“I volunteer on the Dockyard Railway because it enables me to keep physically active, with the added bonus that it offers the ability to carry out some quite unusual tasks and helps keep a valuable part of history alive.”

What Railway do you work on at The Historic Dockyard Chatham?

“Of just under one mile of track still in existence around the Historic Dockyard, we are able to operate ‘demonstration’ freight trains for about 1/3 of a mile. There are a number of historic freight wagons, carefully restored by a separate group of volunteers, and steam loco ‘Ajax’ and diesel locos ‘Rochester Castle’ and ‘Overlord’ with which we are able to haul those wagons on railway operating days.”

What are some of the things you do?

“As well as being qualified to drive both steam and diesel locomotives, I also do some ‘behind the scenes’ work of maintaining and developing railway operations documentation, co-ordinating training, and compiling the crew rosters for operating days.”

Why is it important to keep the Railway running?

“The locomotives, wagons and cranes are a valuable piece of history, but together, maintained and used within the Heritage Dockyard, they are a significant part of the Dockyard’s history and that of the surrounding area. Far better for them to be restored, maintained and used than just sit idle, deteriorating.”

How long do you spend looking after the railway?

“The Dockyard Railway only operates one weekend per month on average, so although the normal working day for a railway volunteer normally starts at 7am and doesn’t finish until 5.30pm / 6pm, these aren’t so frequent that you get tired of it. Personally, because of the documentation, co-ordination and rostering, on average I spend a further half-day per week dealing with those issues. There’s always scope for new volunteers to help with other roles and tasks at the railway itself on extra days once they get settled in, there is more that we could achieve if there were more of us.”

Throughout the year the Dockyard has railway weekends where visitors can see the locomotives steaming through the site. It’s the perfect photo opportunity to get up close to the railway and speak to the team of railway volunteers. To find out more see here.

If you are interested in what other volunteer opportunities, visit here.

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