Severn Valley Railway

The Severn Valley Railway is a leading volunteer-run heritage railway, attracting up to ¼ million visitors a year to the West Midlands.

Employing 80 staff, it is supported by a 1,500 strong group of volunteers who give their time to run historic steam and diesel trains, providing visitors with a memorable experience of the Golden Age of travel. Volunteers and paid staff maintain and preserve a historic fleet of locomotives, carriages infrastructure and heritage buildings.
Whilst the workforce consists of highly qualified and skilled people, the Railway recognises that they have an ageing workforce. Individuals with the requisite heritage skills, for example steam locomotive fitters or boilersmiths, do not exist in the modern work place, and so to survive the Railway must ensure it has an adequate flow of individuals with the necessary skills for the future. This is of immediate concern, as without the personnel with the specialist skills, the Railway will not be able to maintain, let alone develop its activities in the future.
The SVR is not alone in their need for skilled heritage engineers. With over 200 heritage railways in the United Kingdom, all with steam and diesel locomotives, heritage rolling stock and infrastructure, there is an increasing demand for personnel with these traditional heritage skills. Succession is also of concern to the industry’s ‘trade body’, the Heritage Railway Association.
The Heritage Skills Training Academy
Aware of this impending need, and maintaining its reputation as a pioneer, the SVR established the Heritage Skills Training Academy, to imbue a new generation with the skills needed to secure the Railway’s future.   The Academy trains students in the necessary skills that are required for the SVR and other heritage railways.  Thanks to encouraging support from the Bransford Trust and others, the Academy began its pilot year in September 2013 with its first intake of three successful candidates and now has nine apprentices on the programme.
The training is of four years' duration. In the first two years the apprentices will study for an NVQ Level 2 engineering qualification at college three days a week and spend two days a week at the Railway, beginning their experience in heritage railway restoration craftsmanship.
Apprentices attend College three days a week, where they are gain a Level 2 NVQ Qualification in the basics of engineering such as turning, welding, technical drawing, bench fitting, milling and health and safety. They begin their experience in heritage railway restoration craftsmanship with quick rotations of each Railway department, including the Locomotive Running Shed and Boiler Shop at Bridgnorth, the Carriage and Wagon Mechanical Works and the Paint and Body shop at Kidderminster and the Carriage Restoration Works at Bewdley. These quick weekly rotations allow them to get an overview of the workings of the Railway as well as enabling them to get a taster for the work they will start to complete as they move forward in the process.   Alan Brooks, apprentice on the program states “for me this proved to be very successful and interesting as it allowed me to do a multitude of basic tasks from working on locomotive boilers, to carriage restoration, to working in the locomotive machine shop, as well as working on the maintenance involved in keeping sixty-four carriages running”.
Apprentices then spend longer rotation periods in each of the department to enable them to consider which area they will specialise in.  Dean Perkin has particularly enjoyed his time in the Bridgnorth Boiler Shop. He reports: “I have learnt how to white metal bearings, how to face off plates, how to create technical drawings for the Hagley Hall locomotive, as well as learning a lot from the current employees and volunteers that have kept the Railway running for fifty years – all valuable information and skills I feel cannot be lost”.
The SVR is particularly pleased with how the Academy is developing and whilst in the initial first two years the amount of time staff are giving to the apprentices is resource intensive, this is tapering off as apprentices move into their third year and are starting to add “economic” value to the Railway.

The SVR also plans to develop its contract business in restoration and maintenance, and will need to recruit apprentices and graduates from the scheme to expand this.  With over 200 heritage railways across the country there is an immediate demand for heritage skills, and it is envisaged that a job market will exist beyond the SVR for successful, trained individuals.  There are a small number of training schemes at other heritage railways and railway heritage or engineering centres around the country, but they are funded predominantly by lottery or Government funding.  The SVR is receiving some grant funding initially, but the scheme, most importantly, is driven by an identified need and gap in the market place, and it is envisaged that the income generated through contract work will heavily subsidise the on-going funding of the Academy.