My dad reached the grand old age of 70 a few months back, which begged the question: what do you get for the person who has everything? So we clubbed together as a family and bought my dad a train driving experience at the Foxfield Railway, near Stoke on Trent in Staffordshire.
Like me, my Dad has a keen interest in the railways, although unlike me he actually worked for the railways for many years, as a civil engineer. Whilst he’s designed many structures for trains to use, he’d never actually driven one before, so this was to be a new experience for him. And, fortunately, we have family in Stoke so getting to the railway for 9:30am was not a problem.
The experience lasts all day, and the railway can accommodate up to 4 people at a time. The training is provided by the volunteers who run the railway, many of whom are retired from the mainline. The train for the day was W. G. Bagnall 0-6-0ST No. 2 “Florence”, and initially the ‘students’ took it in turn to practice driving the engine out of the station and back again. Later on, each of the participants got to take it in turn to drive the train all the way along the line, with passenger carriages. They also took the role of fireman, which included learning how to couple and uncouple the engine from the carriages, and got to use the levers in the signalbox.
Pleasingly, friends and family were also allowed to be part of the day – I was able to follow my dad around with my camera for almost the whole time, and consequently took over 100 photos. And we brought part of the extended family along with us to ride in the carriages whilst my dad drove us up and down the line.
The volunteers that run the driving training experiences were great – friendly and accommodating, and ensured that participants and their families all had a good day out. At the end of the day, those that took part are presented with a certificate and there were more photo opportunities to be had.
I had a great time, but, more importantly, so did my dad. It’s something that I’d definitely recommend for those with a similar interest in the railways. Foxfield are now booked up for the rest of 2015 so you may need to wait until later in the year for their 2016 dates, if you want to try it for yourself.