Volunteer With Us

Our volunteers are what make the South Devon Railway; they are essential to the work that we do. They come from all walks of life and have a wide array of different skills that help us to keep the wheels turning. With hundreds of volunteers along our line, performing a huge variety of meaningful and enjoyable – sometimes challenging – roles, you’ll fit right in.

No previous experience of working or volunteering on a railway is required, and you certainly don’t need to be a railway enthusiast, just a friendly and cooperative attitude will unlock a rewarding volunteer role, for you,  at the South Devon Railway. 

A member of our volunteer gardening team tends the flower beds at Staverton Station
A member of our volunteer gardening team tends the flower beds at Staverton Station

Almost all of our train crews are volunteers; performing the roles of drivers, firemen, guards, travelling ticket inspectors and buffet attendants. As well as roles on our trains there are a whole host of other tasks off the trains, from booking and enquiries office clerks, to station staff and signalmen.

In addition to front line operational roles, there are plenty of other hands-on roles from engineering jobs in the workshop, to platelayers on the permanent way, restoration work in the Carriage & Wagon or station restoration departments, cleaners and shed hands in our locomotive running shed and a whole range of jobs in the Signal & Telegraph department.

For those who like to keep their hands a little cleaner or can not get down to the railway very often, we have plenty of admin based roles including jobs organising events with our special events team, roaming reporters for our social media and newsletters, assistants in our shop or cafe, plus a whole host of other administrative tasks.

You don’t need any special skills to be a volunteer with the South Devon Railway – but if you do, let us know as we can most probably put them to good use, whether they are railway skills, engineering, building, DIY, general management and administration or even gardening! Volunteers often have an interest in a specific area so we will give them any necessary training to enable them to help.

Volunteer Wagon Restorers working on a wagon.
Volunteer Wagon Restorers working on a wagon.
Volunteer Guard, Alan Taylor, dispatching a Train.
Volunteer Guard, Alan Taylor, dispatching a Train.

Induction Days

If all that sounds great to you, and you want to jump aboard, the first step is to attend an Induction Day at the railway.

Our induction days introduce you to the railway providing you with information on who we are and what makes us tick. You’ll meet some of the people and see some of the places that will become part of your journey with us. 

You’ll have a chance to find out about the wide variety of roles and tasks that we undertake, and to have a chat with our existing volunteers to help you decide what role/s will suit you. Some people join us with a very clear idea of what roles they want to do, and some have no idea at all – whichever you are, you are most welcome – and you can always change your mind later!

If you would like to join us for an induction day please fill in, and submit, the form below. Once received one of our volunteer liaison team will contact you as soon as they can.

Volunteer Induction Form

New volunteers on an induction day.
Volunteers of the Signal and Telegraph Gang oiling point rodding at Staverton.
Volunteers of the Signal and Telegraph Gang oiling point rodding at Staverton.
Volunteer Driver, Dave, prepares a steam locomotive for duty. Photo by Roy Smallpage.
Volunteer Station Maintenance members, Richard and Chris, restoring spear fencing
Volunteer Station Maintenance members restoring spear fencing
Volunteers, Ben and Giles, on the Footplate of 6412

Volunteer FAQs

If you are 18 or over, you can 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.

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

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.

Yes! You could be the perfect person to welcome those of our visitors who also don’t know anything about railways!

We have a whole range of non-railway related jobs involved in running the business of the railway, such as gardening, booking office clerks, catering, customer service, station maintenance, shop assistants, special event organisers, museum guides, marketing,  social media, photographers, lineside conservation, etc, etc.

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 more than likely that there will be other related roles available to suit your availability.

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.

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.

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.

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

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
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).

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.

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.

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!

The first step, for all new volunteers, is to attend an induction day to introduce you to the railway, provide you with information on who we are and to run through some basic safety training. For more information about our volunteer induction days click here.

If you would like to join us for an induction day please fill in our volunteer induction form and one of our volunteer liason team will get in touch.

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