The next gen­er­a­tion of foot­plate crew

Steam Railway (UK) - - CONTENTS -

Yeah, it’s a dream come true re­ally, it was al­ways some­thing I wished could hap­pen but didn’t think it ever would!” Ad­mit it. You grew up want­ing to be an en­gine driver, didn’t you? For many it was a child­hood dream. For Teessider Matthew Earn­shaw it came true… and on the main line.

We’re used to see­ing con­tem­po­rary ‘Top Link’ driv­ers as hav­ing BR steam ex­pe­ri­ence; such as re­cently re­tired ‘Ja­co­bite’ vet­eran Alec Ian Mac­Don­ald, who be­gan his foot­plate ca­reer 62 years ago.

So it’s bizarre to think that Matthew, who is ef­fec­tively step­ping into Alec’s steel toe­caps, was still a child at the turn of the Mil­len­nium. But train­ing foot­plate crew who were born two or three decades after the steam era is es­sen­tial if rail­tours are to sur­vive.

In March 2015, and at the age of 33, James Clarke took the record of be­ing the youngest man to take charge of a steam lo­co­mo­tive on the ‘Big Rail­way’, un­der the aus­pices of DB Cargo. The story made na­tional head­lines.

While James is a reg­u­lar fix­ture on the likes of Clan Line and Tor­nado in the south, Matthew, 30, is sec­onded to Fort Wil­liam for six months of the year, at the busi­ness end of the turn-and-turn­about ‘Ja­co­bite’ be­tween Fort Wil­liam and Mal­laig, over the ‘Road to the Isles’ (SR479).

How did it all come about for a lad who’s osten­si­bly em­ployed as an en­gi­neer for Ian Ri­ley’s Lan­cashire en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness?

“Get­ting passed for driv­ing on the North York­shire Moors Rail­way in early 2016 was the cat­a­lyst, plus Ri­ley had just fin­ished Fly­ing Scots­man. At al­most all of the pre­served rail­ways I vis­ited with the lo­co­mo­tive, the driv­ers al­lowed me to ac­quire valu­able train han­dling ex­pe­ri­ence,” he tells Steam Rail­way.

“Also, the con­sid­er­able amount of time I spent work­ing on the ‘Ja­co­bite’ op­er­a­tion in Scot­land, then for Ri­ley in 2012, and as a West Coast fire­man since 2013, has all helped put me in the pic­ture as a po­ten­tial new driver.”

Know­ing your way around a lo­co­mo­tive is one thing, but ap­ply­ing that prac­ti­cal knowl­edge un­der the spot­light of the mod­ern rail­way is quite an­other…

“Since then I’ve been through all the train­ing a new driver would have to un­der­take at any of the train oper­at­ing com­pa­nies any­where else in the coun­try: a psy­cho­me­t­ric test, the multi-week rules course and so on. The only dif­fer­ence is that my mode of trac­tion is steam.

“After a busy sum­mer do­ing ‘prac­ti­cal han­dling’ on the ‘Ja­co­bite’ (driv­ing un­der su­per­vi­sion by WCR in­spec­tors or driv­ing men­tors) I’d done the nec­es­sary hours and num­ber of turns re­quired to be el­i­gi­ble for ex­am­i­na­tion.”

Fa­mil­iar with the trio of ‘Fives’ owned and man­aged by Ri­ley, Matthew would now take con­trol of an East­ern Re­gion ma­chine for his pass­ing-out as­sess­ment on Au­gust 22: ‘K1’ No. 62005.

“It’s amaz­ing it hap­pened this way. I did think that I’d have to leave the steam in­dus­try and work for a reg­u­lar TOC to be­come a driver, then come back to work on main line steam.

“But in the end it hap­pened the old-fash­ioned way – I went from cleaner to fire­man, and then to driver.”

For his first ros­tered turn, Matthew’s fire­man was Lewis Ma­clean who, at 19 years old, is also the youngest qual­i­fied main line fire­man. Their com­bined age of 49 is less than the time that’s elapsed since the end of stan­dard gauge steam on Bri­tish Rail.

And you wouldn’t bet against Lewis fol­low­ing his mate through the grades – sooner rather than later.



Learner no longer. The ‘P’ plate says it all as Matthew Earn­shaw (right) pre­pares to take the ‘Ja­co­bite’ from Fort Wil­liam with ‘Fif­teen Guinea Spe­cial’ vet­eran No. 44871 on Au­gust 23. His fire­man is 19-year-old Lewis Ma­clean.

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