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How do you drive a diesel train?

PUBLISHED: 15:17 15 March 2009 | UPDATED: 15:06 07 July 2010

Norfolk's longest preservation railway line is offering driver experience taster sessions today.

Intrigued how exactly you drive a diesel railway engine, reporter Elaine Maslin gave it a go.

Norfolk's longest preservation railway line was offering driver experience taster sessions on Sunday.

Intrigued how exactly you drive a diesel railway engine, Times reporter Elaine Maslin gave it a go.

First things first. How do you get it going, how fast does it go and where are the brakes?

Those were my thoughts as I took to the cab of one of Mid Norfolk Railway's diesel engines for a driver experience.

It is Paul Mobbs's 1959 engine, on loan to the MNR and one of the engines being used for driver experience days at the railway, the chance for the general public to see what it is like actually driving a train.

And the answers?

This engine's top speed is 90mph, however, you're only ever going to be allowed to go up to 25mph on the MNR's line between Wymondham and Dereham.

There are brakes everywhere - this engine is fitted with air and vacuum brakes and has numerous safeguards which automatically switch either of those on.

To get it going you put it in forward, put your foot on the safety pedal, put the power on, take off the brake and away you go.

It sounds pretty simple, but as my tutor, Chris Pearson, a real life train driver for National Express, started talking technical I was getting out of my depth.

The hardest part, he said, for new drivers was braking. On the MNR drivers learn how to drive the different diesels - mine, 31438, a 50-year-old Class 31 Brush A1A type, was in fact an electric diesel (it has a diesel generator which powers an electric engine).

There are no mirrors, indicators or a clutch. Just straight track. Sounds simple enough.

“It is totally different from any road vehicle,” said Mr Pearson. “The hardest thing is getting used to the brakes. Anyone can get the train started but can you stop it.”

On top of that drivers also have to learn the line, where gradients are which can speed up or slow down the train, the signals and points. So not so simple and I can testify to the fact the braking is something you have to get used to - it is a lot stronger than you expect.

Diesels were something of a revolution, doing away with the hours of preparation time needed to bring the old steam trains up to full steam and the heavy physical work of the fire man shoving coal into its burning belly.

The whiff of steam and the soot blackened faces of the foot plate crew were gone and in their place there ended up being just one driver with a set of keys.

Mr Mobbs, who has been on the railways for more than 30 years and currently works for Network Rail, said there were mixed feelings when diesels were brought in.

“There were mixed emotions because they liked driving steam because there were more skills involved. But it was also easier to start a diesel and a cleaner environment.

“And as diesels started to progress they became more powerful.”

His grandfathers worked on the railways - one, based at Doncaster, even drove the Royal engine from King's Cross to York complete with King Edward VII on board.

Nothing as glamorous on the MNR but still as fun, especially stopping the Sunday traffic at the crossing in Dereham.

Anyone interested in learning more can try driver experience courses on the MNR on Saturday, , and November 1, with more dates to be announced.

For more information email experience@mnr.org.uk or call 01362 690633.


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