Volunteering FAQs

What is the minimum age to volunteer?

If you are 18 or over, you can definitely volunteer for almost any role.

If you are age 14-17, you can volunteer in specific roles and duties, please contact us to enquire.

If you are age 13 or under then unfortunately you cannot volunteer on the railway, but we strongly recommend you join the South Devon Railway Association. This will allow you to receive the Association’s magazine which will enable you to build your knowledge of the railway in readiness for when you are 14.

Can ladies volunteer?

Yes! There are no jobs that a specific to men or women.

I only have a limited amount of time to spare, can I volunteer?

Yes! Any amount of time you have available will be appreciated and well-used!

Some roles, such as driver, guard, signalman are worked in shifts of a set length with set times, but many many other roles, such as working in our engineering shed, gardens and grounds, shop, etc, are not set to fixed times or have flexibility in them.

I don’t know anything about railways, can I volunteer?

Yes! You are the perfect person to welcome those of our visitors who also don’t know anything about railways! Also, there is a whole range of non-railway related jobs involved in running the business of the railway, such as marketing, commercial, retail, catering, IT, telephones, painting, DIY, etc.

Is there a minimum time commitment to volunteering?

It is expected that volunteers will commit sufficient time to the railway to ‘repay’ the commitment the railway puts in to training them. This will vary hugely from department to department, with some departments having some staff who pop in from time to time and then maybe not for six months. Some departments have an expectation of a minimum number of turns per year, in order to maintain competence, and some departments also have a maximum allowable time between turns, again to arrest skills fade and maintain competence. This is best discussed with us, but even if you can’t give the level of commitment required to a particular role, it is highly likely there will be other related roles available that do match your time availability.

How are the days on which I’ll work arranged?

This varies from department to department. Some departments are very informal, and volunteers arrive for duty when they have time and leave when they wish. Some departments, where cover is more reliably required, such as in retail, etc, arrange locally who will work when, within the bounds of each volunteers’ availability. In operational departments, such as guards, signalling, drivers, etc, a monthly request for availability is distributed online, and everyone is asked to indicate their availability. A roster clerk then uses this availability, combined with the operational characteristics of the railway, to allocate duties to everyone within their availability. Duties are allocated as fairly as possible.

I’m only available on Thursdays (or any other day), can I volunteer?

Yes! We are always happy to work within volunteers’ availability. There are many departments where there is no limit to the number of volunteers who can work at any one time, so varying the number of attendees by day is absolutely fine. For rostered roles, you can enter your availability only for Thursdays on the monthly request for availability, and then the roster clerk will only roster you on those days. For roles where there is a limit to the number of people who can take part in a task, such as engine driving, we can’t guarantee that you’ll be utilised for engine driving every Thursday, but there will definitely be other work to do, relating to your preferred task, on every Thursday.

Are volunteering jobs difficult?

Some jobs are difficult, and some are very easy. For the difficult ones we provide you with full training, support and advice, and you’re only expected to do these tasks alone when both you and we are fully confident that you’re fully trained. The difficult tasks as often the most rewarding, such as engine driving, and many of our volunteers put many years of effort and training into their skills, and fulfil their life-long ambitions by becoming competent in them.

Can I drive the trains?

Yes, although perhaps not on the first day! See the next FAQ regarding how much training time may be required.

What are the Training Requirements?

While we are a heritage railway, the matters of safety, competence and business professionalism still have to be taken extremely seriously.

Many operational roles require a degree of training and assessment before carrying them out on your own, and some other roles require a degree of training to ensure our business operates in a professional way.

Here is an indication of the training time normally required for some of our key roles. Note this is only a guide, and training is delivered to meet each individual person’s requirements:
Grounds and gardens – Start on the first day
DIY Gangs – Start on the first day
Shop – Shadowing turns with other shop staff
Café – Shadowing turns with other café staff
Shed assistant – Working with other shed staff until ready
Workshop – Working with other shed staff until ready
Ticket inspector – three turns
Booking clerk – three turns
On Train Buffet Steward – three turns
Guard – Three-day training course then three to six months ‘shadowing’
Signalman – Three to six months ‘shadowing’
Engine cleaner – Shadowing turns with other cleaners
Fireman – A year’s service as an engine cleaner/preparer
Secondman – A year’s service assisting with diesel locos
Driver – Three year’s service as a fireman/secondman

Note that all of these timescales are only a guide and a hugely affected by the amount of time you can give to your learning and development, your aptitude, background skills, etc. The higher-profile jobs, such as engine driver take several years and a great deal of commitment to complete, but are hugely rewarding at the end!

If you already have skills from your work or another railway, these are taking into consideration in your training. Ie, if you’re a main line railway driver, or you conduct engineering work as part of your job, then it won’t be necessary for you to complete all the same training as a complete novice, however, it will still be necessary for you to complete the relevant assessments (apart from nationally-recognised qualifications).

Are there lots of tests and exams?

Some roles have test and exams. This is necessary for both your and the railway’s benefit to ensure you are competent before taking on a safety-related job such as signalman, guard or driver. These tests are administered in a professional and supportive way, and feedback is given to address any gaps in knowledge. Rest assured that we want you to succeed as much as you do – so we will do everything we can to help you pass. Some non-safety related roles don’t have any assessments at all.

I have medical problems, can I still volunteer?

Yes. Safety-critical roles require a level of medical fitness. This is assessed via a confidential self-certification questionnaire, followed by a confidential visit to a qualified medical officer. The medical officer discusses any existing conditions etc with you, discusses the fitness requirements of working on a railway, and then issues a certificate of medical fitness to the railway.

If you have any medical issue that precludes safety-critical work, there are many other jobs on the railway related to your area of interest that don’t require medical fitness that you can still do. Every case is judged on a case-by-case basis.

Do I have to deal with the public?

Some roles are public-facing, such as booking clerks, guards, loco crew, etc. Some roles are not, such as our back-office staff, track workers, signalling & telecoms staff, grounds staff, kitchen staff, etc. So if working with the public isn’t your thing then don’t worry, there are plenty of jobs that are!

How do I join in?

Contact Us and let us know you’re interested!

All new volunteers attend an induction day. Read on…