If you register, you can do a lot more. And become an active part of our growing community. You'll have access to hidden forums, and enjoy the ability of replying and starting conversations.

Will there be enough volunteers for preserved railways in a few decades time ?

Discussion in 'Heritage Railways & Centres in the UK' started by toplight, Aug 18, 2017.

  1. toplight

    toplight Member

    Joined:
    May 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,133
    Likes Received:
    953
    Location:
    Swindon, England
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    It has often been discussed the financial side of Steam railways and whether they will have sufficient money, but more of concern to me is if there will be enough volunteers (and skilled ones). It is fairly obvious that many of the volunteers are aged 40s to 70s with the bulk in their 55s to 70s and many of those either haven't had children or their children are not involved so what will happen to steam lines in say 20 to 30 years ? especially smaller ones with no or few paid staff. ? I know some that have already left items like coaches etc to the railway or other members because they have no kids to pass them onto. Will there be sufficient volunteers to keep the lines going ?
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  2. 21B

    21B Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    2,423
    I think there are a few different points here:

    1. demographics of existing volunteers - volunteers tend to be slightly skewed towards the older generations, but my experience is that the demographic has been skewed that way for the whole time I have been a volunteer (30 years since I was mid-teens). Seems to me that a lot of volunteers over that time have been early retirees and have volunteered for 10 to 20 years. Yes there are those who have been around since the 1970s or earlier and are still going strong, but that isnt the majority. Actually the bigger threat I think will be the declining value of pensions and there consequent reduction in early retirement which will lead to a smaller pool of people who can volunteer.

    2. Attracting younger members. Some railways are very successful at attracting younger people (e.g. Festiniog). Also there is a bit of evidence that youngsters that drift away under pressures of building careers and families sometimes drift back eventually, though not always to the same place they started.

    3. From Father to Son. I am not sure that this is a significant factor in people volunteering. Only my opinion, but those who follow in their parents footsteps and volunteer are in the minority in all age groups.

    4. Asset ownership. I think that ownership structures will simplify as people leave things to the railways that they supported when alive.

    5. Will there be sufficient volunteers. Probably, but it will get harder to recruit versus all the distractions that provide alternatives, and the increasing expectations of people. We will need to think of volunteers as both employees and customers and treat them very well.

    6. Will the volunteers have the right skills. Probably not. It is already the case that the days when volunteers would walk through the door and announce that they were an apprenticed toolmaker, or some such are fewer than they were, because of course many fewer people have that kind of job in the UK now than they did 30 years ago, and those jobs tend to be even more geographically concentrated than they were, which means some railways find it easier than others. Also the industrial technology that even those who do that kind of job use is very different from the 50 year old machine tools we have in many of our machine shops. We will have to adapt. Use more modern equipment and techniques and perhaps (despite the challenges) provide more training opportunities.
     
  3. Stan loco

    Stan loco New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 4, 2016
    Messages:
    44
    Likes Received:
    31
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    lancashire
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    There are railways now that do not have enpough volunteers. With the few doing the bulk of the work.

    The preserved railways that operate on a friendly open constructive basis do appear to have a good spread of volunteer ages. Management working well with volunteers so important.
    Railways are so short of people persons able to deal appropriately with the wide variety of personalities present. Its a tricky one as many rail enthusiasts are solo operators and naturally have unique characteristics whilst volunteering.
    Variety of points of view , personal likes dislikes varied strenths of personality make developing volunteer numbers challenging. The people with the glue like characteristics which bring together and bond people into productive friendly groups are essential.

    Railways that have volunteers who enjoy teaching youngsters whilst having some banter will have the more secure future.

    Unfortunately there will be some railways shutting up due to age related shortage of volunteers.
     
  4. mikechant

    mikechant Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2012
    Messages:
    197
    Likes Received:
    224
    I seem to remember that there was a lengthy thread on this exact subject fairly recently...
     
  5. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Nat Pres stalwart

    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2013
    Messages:
    9,326
    Likes Received:
    14,719
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Cheltenham
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    Oh it comes round pretty often, probably about once a year since I've been a member here and an active volunteer, I wonder if it'll still be going in 50 years time when I retire...?

    Sent from my Moto G (4) using Tapatalk
     
  6. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Apr 6, 2015
    Messages:
    6,707
    Likes Received:
    4,919
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Thorn in my managers side
    Location:
    72
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I suspect that skills may be as big an issue as numbers
     
    Hampshire Unit and 30854 like this.
  7. huochemi

    huochemi Well-Known Member Friend

    Joined:
    May 6, 2008
    Messages:
    2,409
    Likes Received:
    1,154
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    UK
    I have no idea whether the GCR is typical of the industry today but if you look at the volunteer page on their site http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/volunteer/, it seems that: they do not want volunteers to work on the permanent way, as they have a professional team; there is no mention of the loco workshop at Loughborough, so one assumes that is also a volunteer-free zone; and if you want to work on coach restoration, it talks about "vacancies" (for volunteers?), and you need experience (an ad in Main Line I noticed a couple of years ago asked budding volunteers to submit CVs :eek:), although the wording is somewhat contradictory in places. I think all railways are already managing round lack of skilled volunteers by paying for services to a greater or lesser extent. I guess an issue today that was not an issue back in the days I volunteered on the TR is the H&S and paper trails needed for everything. One used to turn up and make oneself available for whatever was needed whether it was with the track gang, in the workshop, cutting out boiler tubes, painting a coach etc.
     
  8. Greenway

    Greenway Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Mar 16, 2008
    Messages:
    3,550
    Likes Received:
    3,413
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    South Hams
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Whilst not strictly heritage railways the link is heritage and does mention ground works, which most heritage railways have in abundance I guess. I believe volunteering will be a more difficult choice for many and the railways management due to the escalation of health and safety and other legislation that the operators of heritage railways are slowly having to accept.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/201...ational-trust-property-needed-qualifications/
     
    Last edited: Aug 18, 2017
  9. toplight

    toplight Member

    Joined:
    May 18, 2009
    Messages:
    1,133
    Likes Received:
    953
    Location:
    Swindon, England
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    I don't think you should be "put off" by the word 'vacancy', I don't think the person who wrote it will have intended to put people off. Some jobs like Driving/Firing/Guards etc it is necessary to pass certain tests to show you know what to do. The government's railway inspectors expect railways to have paperwork to show that people are qualified and they can demand to see this whenever they want, especially if they think a railway isn't up to scratch. You wouldn't want someone driving with the public on board when the person doesn't know what they are doing. It is no different to say driving a car, you wouldn't expect to do this without taking a test etc.

    For other stuff like restoration it is not so important, but it is quite hard to find people who are good at doing stuff. I would recommend any new volunteer decide what you want to work on and then stick at that, so you slowly build up skills in that area so you know what you are doing. For example I work as a volunteer on Carriage restoration, so I know all about that now, but I don't know hardly anything about say Signalling and don't need to as I don't do it.

    The comments about the Loughborough loco dept, I am not involved but I would expect this may be partly because there will be small separate groups that work on each Loco, so some of them are even companies/charities themselves, but I am sure if you went down and asked you could find out who works on what loco project and then get involved.

    I am quite surprised at the many people on this forum who are clearly very interested but don't volunteer, is it a lack of time or are there other reasons. ? Potentially there is a big pool of people out there who are very interested but not actively involved. ?
     
    30854 likes this.
  10. brennan

    brennan New Member

    Joined:
    Sep 11, 2016
    Messages:
    88
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Gloucester
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    In short, no. Also there either won't be any coal or it will be at a sky high price and it's use strictly controlled so, enjoy it while you can.
     
    jnc and nick glanf like this.
  11. Tim Light

    Tim Light Member

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2016
    Messages:
    1,079
    Likes Received:
    599
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Yorkshire
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I expect the major preserved railways to adopt a hybrid model (some of them have started already).

    Many low-skilled tasks that are not heritage-specific will pass to modestly-paid employees who are not necessarily interested in trains. This includes sales of tickets, souvenirs and food, as well as cleaning and building maintenance.

    Some railway operating jobs (driver, fireman, guard, signalman) may need to be salaried positions.

    Highly-skilled engineering, including overhauls, will be sub-contracted to specialist heritage engineering workshops. Several such workshops already exist, some hosted on heritage railways.

    There will still be roles for volunteers, but moving towards jobs that require dedication and enthusiasm rather than heritage skills. At any National Trust property you will meet volunteers who take delight in explaining the history of the property, and what life was like for the occupants at any given period. At Blists Hill, every building is manned by a person dressed in period costume who is engaged in a heritage activity (like candle-making or bread-making). I think most of these people are volunteers.

    There are many preserved railways that will struggle to adopt such a model. They are already limping along on a skeleton volunteer force, taking just enough money to cover operating costs and bare minimum maintenance. Sad to say, I think some will be forced to close their doors.
     
    paulhitch likes this.
  12. simon

    simon Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2006
    Messages:
    10,437
    Likes Received:
    4,187
    Perhaps we could have a thread about whether there will be enough people left on np in the future to contribute to a thread about whether there will be enough volunteers......
     
  13. 21B

    21B Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    2,423
    60 years ago no one thought it was possible for volunteers to run a railway at all.
    50 years ago it was thought that it was only possible to preserve narrow gauge railways because the cost of standard gauge was too high
    40 years ago it was thought that there couldnt possibly be more than a handful of railways make it into the 1990s
    30 years ago it was impossible that railways longer than 5 miles long would survive
    20 years ago it was thought that a new standard gauge loco couldnt be built
    10 years ago it was impossible that heritage railways would operate trains on the network daily

    Yes, there will be volunteers in the future. Yes something will be found to fuel the locomotives. No the future will not be the same as the present or the past. It is what we choose to make it.
     
  14. Copper-capped

    Copper-capped Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    Apr 19, 2017
    Messages:
    1,291
    Likes Received:
    1,563
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    Stanthorpe, QLD, Australia
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    With the general trend of parents having kids later in life (I think this is a thing), then the average starting age of volunteers may creep upwards too. It's harder to find time (and money!) to indulge personal passions with young ones under your feet! This may be offset a little by longer life expectancy though.
     
  15. jtx

    jtx Member

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2007
    Messages:
    1,902
    Likes Received:
    854
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Happily retired
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    Yes I am an active volunteer
    I agree. Apres moi, la deluge! We sorted it; they will have to. I did wonder, would it die off as my generation ages and dies. Thankfully, the steam engine, large or small, has a pull that other devices that do not. From the magnificence of the machine in my avatar, via the Duchesses, Kings, Castles, As 1,2,3 &4, MNs, WCs, BBs, the mixed traffic engines, the Prairies, Panniers and 14XXs on the standard gauge; to the Garratts, Double Fairlies, George Englands & Quarry Hunslets of the Narrow Gauge. people will come to watch, wave, smile and ride behind, the steam engine.

    A number of years ago, my wife and I rode behind the West Country Pacific, "Bodmin," from Eastleigh to Yeovil, and people from factories, towns and villages turned out to smile and wave at the train. On Monday and Tuesday this week, I drove the Garratts, 138 and 87, across the Brittania bridge in Porthmadog on successive days and crowds of people were smiling and waving, watching our progress, as they were along the line.

    We appear to be winning!
     
  16. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Jun 8, 2014
    Messages:
    9,992
    Likes Received:
    5,634
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Never you mind
    Location:
    31A
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    I'm someone who is very interested in railways, but I find my loyalties rather split at the moment, I have parents living in Bewdley, I live in Cambridge, to get to Worcestershire, Peterborough, Wymondham, or Sheringham is a little bit expensive, and a smidge time consuming at the moment, and with my job I can't really guarantee what time I have off, throw in family commitments and it's even more difficult. I used to volunteer at the SVR when I was younger, I'm not saying I've done my bit, but at the moment I'd like to think my contribution is more financial than physical. In my current job I'm more than happy to help with real ale reccomendations and suppliers though!
     
    Last edited: Aug 19, 2017
  17. 30854

    30854 Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Mar 8, 2017
    Messages:
    6,037
    Likes Received:
    6,216
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Retired
    Location:
    Brighton&Hove
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    Boy, am I relieved to see this thread. It's taken ages to condense, hopefully remove spelling mistakes and edit out some of the choicer Anglo-Saxon which crept into first drafts, so if any of this duplicates posts made over the last couple of hours, please accept my apologies.

    What our heritage lines do, what the superb folk who selflessly give of their time, skills, effort and money to enable them to do, is to create a time capsule for visitors to enjoy, with them, a nostalgic illusion woven with genuine (and some recreated) artefacts within a setting as rendolent of some past era as possible.

    The hard and inescapable reality remains that it is an illusion. When anyone, visitor or staff, leaves the bubble so lovingly created, boom... we're back in the real world. Like it or not, it's within that real world that everything, including the heritage movement, has to exist.

    Although coal supplies, as mentioned in some earlier posts, will inevitably become a serious issue, carbon-neutral alternatives such as torrified biomass are with us already. Lubricants are an essential across the board, so there's little doubt alternatives to fossil hydrocarbon lubricants, of suitable grades, will become widely available. There's no danger of our beloved steam locos running out of fuel, it's just that they will need to utilise a different and sustainable fuel. It would, of course, help no end if we didn't wait until coal becomes completely unaffordable before taking action. It doesn't all need to happen next week, or next year, but it does need to happen.

    Regarding volunteer numbers, when I had the temerity to suggest one possible means of improving matters in one specific area, labour wise, to improve the longer term outlook for the heritage sector, a frequent refrain of 'why change?' echoed back. Ditto permanent way. The recent furore over CWR being a prime example. More power to those lines with the volunteers to grease every fishplate and change every rotten sleeper, but not all lines enjoy that level of support now. What the situation will be in 20 years is anyone's guess, with mine being that it won't be noticeably better, yet practical issues of maintenance and of lessening wear on stock due to running on jointed track simply cut no ice with purists. Even suggestions I saw of a compromise by retaining jointed bull-head on wooden sleepers in stations found little favour in some quarters. No answer ever comes when the question of costs and staff is brought up, just repeated dogmatic insistence backed up by nothing practical.

    If the illusion we're selling is of how the railways once worked, we realistically have to accept that we just don't have the staff or resources to reproduce everywhere, every day, every facet of what was a very labour intensive industry.

    For the overwhelming majority of visitors, the trains and stations are what they come to see and without getting that bit right, they won't come. We accept (sometimes reluctantly) that additional attractions, such as decent (but mostly inauthentic) catering facilities, play areas, baby changing rooms etc. are essential. Reality also dictates that certain other more mundane facilities don't represent the past too accurately.

    Clearly, staffing levels absolutely have to allow the 'shop window' to run smoothly. Ticketing is one area where the laudable aim of using authentic Edmonson card type is considered essential by some lines, but unaffordable by others. There will always be a need for the expertise of suitably skilled folk in workshops. Indeed, demonstrations of the skills of footplate staff, mechanics, fitters and restorers are an attraction in their own right, but if the first priority is to staff a safe working railway, means of ensuring that work essential to keeping the railways working and safe are found. If this means wider cooperation across different lines is required to overcome shortfalls in skills or numbers, isn't that preferable to lines closing due to a myopic refusal to adapt?

    The frustrating thing isn't that, to some, every last suggestion seems to be regarded as a threat, it's that many refuse to perceive that problems are looming in plain sight, or even acknowledge any problems could exist. This is nothing new, this forum is littered with examples of well intended suggestions that some merely ridicule, presumably in the belief that if what's in front of them can be shouted off the forum, there's no problem to be faced. If only that were confined to one on-line forum!

    For too many, maudlin navel gazing and retreat into sef-indulgent escapism are now seen as virtues and indeed, things to be foisted on everyone. Complacent delusion and pious hope aren't strategies for survival for the heritage sector any more than for the country at large.

    There are serious challenges ahead. Ignoring them isn't a solution, but if we want future generations to share the enjoyment we get from working heritage railways, we need to start identifying problems and suggesting possible solutions. Might I offer this as a final thought? The sign on my old boss's desk said "When you're up to your arse in alligators, it can be hard to remember the task is to drain the swamp". Well, we are, it is and we will! Adapt..... or die. It's that simple.
     
  18. 21B

    21B Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    2,423
    30854, a thoughtful post. I think that torrified fuel apart you can find examples of most ideas being tried, and quietly every railway is moving with the times to greater or lesser extent, and more or less competently. I think we can all learn something from each other, and in fact the open sharing of knowledge is probably what has sustained us this far. It doesnt often make headlines, but behind the scenes there is an amazing amount of help being passed between railways. I do agree though that this needs to be reinforced and increased, and I think we are approaching a point where there is a need for another overhaul centre to replace LNWR. Could / should this be a cooperative rather than a "firm"?

    I wouldnt take too many of the discussions on this forum as indicative of the thinking going on within the "management" of most of our lines. I think that is far more practical and pragmatic, and whilst "they" is often guilty of focusing on the alligators a little too much, one has to remember that in order to be able to drain the swamp one has to first survive the alligator attacks.
     
    30854 likes this.
  19. martin1656

    martin1656 Resident of Nat Pres Friend

    Joined:
    Dec 8, 2014
    Messages:
    14,301
    Likes Received:
    8,660
    Gender:
    Male
    Location:
    St Leonards
    Heritage Railway Volunteer:
    No I do not currently volunteer
    This is the same question that railways have been asking themselves since when they opened up, Some have done whats needed, youth groups, people whose job is to ensure new volunteers are looked after, but there are some who sadly have not, there are still to many cases of the wrong people left in charge when they have no people skills, turning up to do a days work, to be told " oh i wasnt given any instructions and having to in effect use my own initiative until the PIC turned up, then finding that someone had locked away the safety gear , so even though i had been told what i would be doing , i could not do it safely, until i saw the manager and hilighted the problems, and there is the problem of people who think they and only they should be doing a job, let me explain, due to the job i was asked to do, ( needle gunning then painting the inside of the bunker of the USA, i had times when i had finished one job, and then not be able to do the next, due to time restraints etc, i had to find some thing else, Now some of the time, i was able to help other members of staff because they knew that i knew what i was doing, but one other time i started to rub down the exterior paint on the cab side, ( i was already working on the inside, with the person who had started it,) to be told by someone ( the original painter ) dont you dare touch that, this dispite the engine being on a very tight deadline, and if i'm being honest the standard of finish was very poor, but this person, did not want anyone else touching his handy work, personally, if i were in that position, i would have welcomed another experienced painter, At this point i put my stuff away signed out went home early because there was nothing else i could do,
    if Railways are to attract volunteers, they need to look after them, they need to ensure their time isnt being wasted, that they dont allow cliques to form, that mean people end up feeling they are wasting their time , i fully understand if its a skilled job, but some people with in the railway industry don't seem to want to be welcoming , railway politics are still too prevalent in some cases . In my case, i did the job i was asked , completed it, was going to return one day a week, but didnt go back because of the experience i had, i'm an very experienced voluenteer and just ended up feeling frustrated , because , i had skills , prooven skills, there was an engine that i thought i would have been asked to help on, but the project leader dispite knowing me, did not want anyone to help, that only he was to do the finishing coats , yet i had previously painted engines for this line, so at times i was stood there with nothing to do, yet there was work i could have been doing, and some railways wonder why they lose people.
     
  20. 21B

    21B Part of the furniture

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2009
    Messages:
    1,770
    Likes Received:
    2,423
    It is fair to say that experience of a particular railway in the past would not necessarily be repeated today. That said I think I know of the railway you describe. Whilst it is undoubtedly very different today, it may not be different enough. Your experience should be a cautionary tale.
     
    30854 likes this.

Share This Page