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VOLUNTEERING OPPORTUNITIES ON THE FFESTINIOG RAILWAY
Volunteering is integral to the operation of the railway. Whilst there is a core of permanent staff the railway relies heavily on volunteer effort to help run and maintain the railway and its infrastructure.
Volunteer work on the Ffestiniog Railway is divided into basic sections. Firstly there is the ‘front of house’ side that deals with the public in roles such as: Booking Offices and Shop Assistants, Car Park Hosts, Station Masters and Train Guards, On-Train Refreshment Services and Catering & Bar Staff.
These jobs all require contact with the public so you will need to enjoy meeting people and have the patience and friendly disposition necessary to help them to enjoy their day. There is a lot of satisfaction to be had from sorting out somebody’s problems and especially so when they come back at the end of the day to thank you for a lovely day out. You need to be smart and tidy - our visitors have come to a top quality attraction and expect to see top quality staff too. Customer Care, Satisfaction and Safety are our top priorities in these positions.
Then there is the side that deals with running the railways’ trains: Locomotive Preparation, Driving and Firing, Locomotive and Carriage Maintenance. Signalmen and Controllers, Level Crossing Keepers and Carriage Cleaners.
Please don’t think you are away from the public eye in these jobs as you are an important part of the daily operation of the trains. Customers are inquisitive creatures and really appreciate it when you take the time to talk to them about what you are doing or by helping them to get the photo they want. A locomotive sitting on the front of a train at Blaenau Ffestiniog so that visitors can speak to the crew and photograph it really makes their day. It is equally important that both you and your train are equally well presented when you arrive at the station. The cleanliness of trains is often underestimated but goes a long way to enhancing passengers’ enjoyment of the journey.
Lastly, there is the really important side that is so often forgotten, that of building and maintaining the infrastructure of the railways: Civil Engineering and Track Maintenance, Signals and Telecommunications, Building Repairs, Electrical Work and Gardening, Building new Locomotives and Carriages, plus countless other jobs that you never knew were needed.
Not everyone wants to be in the public domain. Perhaps you do that every day in your ‘other’ job or maybe you just prefer to work alone or with a small team. Without the above jobs, there would be no railway for us to enjoy. Many of them give you the chance to get outdoors, learn a new skill and have the satisfaction of seeing the efforts of your labour at the end of the day. Perhaps you like woodwork or would be interested in learning more. There are countless engineering and woodworking opportunities at Boston Lodge Works for instance.
All of the tasks provide the opportunity to be part of the railway family, and gain the enjoyment of being part of a busy team, as well as staying in the very beautiful environment of North Wales. For all sorts of reasons, a wide cross section of people (of all ages) find working on the railways not only satisfying, but very fulfilling, making new friends and expanding their social lives alongside the satisfaction of a day’s work well done.
Here is a list of the various departments that provide support for the railway. There are always volunteering opportunities in all areas.
- The Booking Offices
The booking offices issue tickets to passengers over the counters at the stations, and also issue pre-booked tickets for party groups and special events. The main booking office in Porthmadog also deals with incoming phone calls, group bookings, correspondence and general enquiries. They also organise special trains, such as photographic, birthday, wedding or other celebration trains. Our Titan ticket issuing system was designed by a volunteer 21 years ago and is very user-friendly. Within a very short time you will be confident enough to sell simple tickets and there is always someone around to help. Skills required include a basic knowledge of the railway and local area, money handling, dealing with customers ‘face to face’ and over the telephone, and 'unflappability'!
- Shop Sales
Although often seen as only a minor part of the railways, Shop sales provide essential income to help the railway to continue to exist. This is also the human face of the railways that customers see, and therefore provides a big opportunity to impress customers and to help passengers have a good experience on our railway. Skills required include a friendly disposition, money handling, counter service, housekeeping and shelf stocking. Blaenau Ffestiniog station has a joint shop and booking office. It has a Titan ticket issuing system and also a shop till through which all the money is processed.
Our catering outlets also provide an important service to our customers as well as more valuable income to support the railway. Our main establishment - ‘Spooner’s Café & Bar’ - at Porthmadog offers a large range of hot and cold snacks, beverages and has an award-winning real ale bar. Tan-y-Bwlch café offers a smaller range but is nevertheless a busy outlet at peak times when many passengers break their journey to take a walk and explore the surrounding woodland. You will learn basic food and drink preparation, waiting-on skills and general kitchen housekeeping.
- On Train Services
The Ffestiniog Buffet Cars provide light refreshments to passengers on board the more modern carriages on the trains. Orders are taken off the menu and the refreshments are then served at the customer’s seat. Guide books are also sold on the trains. These provide the customer with a useful and attractive book to help them during their day on the railway, act as a souvenir of their visit and also a way of publicising the railway when shown to family and friends. Special services such as ‘Bangers & Mash’ and ‘Jazz’ trains also run in the summer and these need extra pairs of hands. Basic food hygiene courses may also be available for regular volunteers. The buffet cars also provide the volunteer with the ideal introduction into the railway as you quickly meet many other volunteers and have an opportunity to see what other jobs are available. For instance, anyone wishing to train as a guard will learn a lot from being involved in the day-to-day running of the trains while working as an on-train steward.
This is the department that runs the trains, ensures safety at all times, provides train guards and ticket inspectors, looks after the stations, provides signal persons, prepares the carriages for use each day, provides level crossing keepers and controls train movements over both railways. This is definitely a ‘front line’ job, with many posts offering opportunities to meet and look after the travelling public. Most guards have started as buffet stewards and progressed to guarding trains. There is a set training programme and you need to be prepared to give several week-long blocks in order to complete your training. Signalmen have usually already qualified as guards or drivers. We have one manual signal box at Rhiw Goch and other automatic ones which can be manned when required at busy periods to speed up crossings. Controllers are in charge of all train movements on both railways and considerable experience of both lines is required before anyone can be considered for training in this position.
The main objective is to get people to visit and travel on our railways, one of which is a very new product and not well known outside railway circles. In a world where continental travel is very much the norm, we have to actively sell the railway as a product to the North Wales holidaymaker. This is done by the design, production and distribution of advertising materials, attending trade shows, assisting with media production, press releases, customer surveys, and maintaining the railway’s website. There is a lot a volunteer can do to help the marketing department and it does not necessarily need to be done at Porthmadog. There is mailshot preparation, representing the railways at trade events and shows, conducting surveys or distributing publicity material.
- Railway Workshops
The romance of driving a steam engine appeals to many people, but is only gained after much experience at the Works. The normal route is from cleaning locomotives to trainee firing and after a qualifying period, fireman. Then, for the chosen few, it is possible to go on to become a steam driver after stringent tests and medicals. Diesel drivers take a different route, again involving a training regime, a medical and examination. Locomotives also need to be maintained, thoroughly overhauled and - sometimes - we even build them from scratch. This work is often carried out by volunteer groups who ‘adopt’ an engine. Carriages too need to be maintained and we are now building carriages to such a high quality that we regularly gain contracts to build for other railways.
There are many other openings at Boston Lodge Works, including machine tool work, joinery and carpentry, carriage building and maintenance, welding, fabricating, painting, routine repair, maintenance and refurbishment, electrical skills, specialist draftsman skills, and much more! Many tasks require skilled people, but there are also plenty of openings for people who are prepared to work hard, get dirty
- Buildings & Electrical Department
This department is responsible for the maintenance and development of the buildings, signs, stonewalls etc., all of which give the Railways their high quality image. Once again there is the opportunity to gain new skills, (often handy for DIY back at home) under expert supervision. There are also plenty of jobs that require minimal skills – just enthusiasm to do a good job. Examples of these include gardening and painting. If you have youngsters keen to get involved, this is an ideal start in railway life. Not only can the young people learn a lot about safe railway operation, they can also enjoy working alongside Mum or Dad on a worthwhile project and have the satisfaction of achieving something in a really wonderful part of the world, for a unique organisation! Big working parties are held several times a year, often combined with social activities when railway friendships can be made and renewed.
- Civil Engineering
This department provides the safe track without which the trains cannot run! This involves both minor and major maintenance of the track and track-bed. Many departments of the railway join in this essential work in the quieter months of the year when we do not run daily train services. There is also a need for track gangs to carry out urgent maintenance on the tracks during the busy months, as well as cutting back line-side growth and working on the structures that support the track. If you want to walk the tracks, the only safe way to do it is to join our track gangs. The work can be heavy, is always out of doors, and coupled with working with highly experienced rail staff, can be very exhilarating.
- Signals & Telecommunications
This small department is regularly enhanced by a dedicated band of helpers. The railway boasts a fascinating telephone system and its own telephone exchange. They maintain the pole route beside the line including trimming of line-side trees using a rail-mounted ‘cherry picker’. There are several different types of signalling system for stations and crossings, so there is plenty of variety. Large groups get together for S&T working weeks and there are weekend working parties too.
- Information Technology
All well managed businesses these days require computers to run efficently, the FR is no exception. From the General Manager's laptop down to the smallest print server operating one of the A0 CAD plotters, they all need support. Fortunately we have a fibre optic backbone along the railway which connects all the different services and locations. Our work is very varied, from installing cables on telegraph poles or down holes, to configuring the server racks we are very busy. We cover much more than most IT departments, so don't expect to be doing ordinary IT support if you come to work alongside us.
If you would like further information on any of these opportunities then please contact the Volunteer Co-ordinator, Tricia Doyle, at email@example.com