Staff have taken time out from working on the transformation of Virgin Trains’ east coast route to volunteer at the world’s first commercial railway.
As Virgin Trains prepares to revolutionise train travel with the introduction of its Azuma trains from next year, 29 volunteers from the company have helped to drive steam trains and worked as “navvies” at Middleton Railway in Leeds.
Middleton Railway Vice-President Ian Smith, who has been a volunteer at the heritage museum for 45 years, said: “Virgin Trains staff have assisted us by cleaning and, under supervision, driving the railway’s steam locomotive ‘Matthew Murray’ which was built in 1903.
“They’ve also spent time working as railway ‘navvies’ and, under the direction of our chief engineer, helped to level the floor of our running shed, replace wooden timbers on the track and lay a new foot crossing, which saved us a few months’ worth of work in just one day.
“Many of them are office-based so it was great to see them getting their hands dirty by shovelling coal onboard and grafting in the rail shed or on the track!
“Middleton was the very first railway to be authorised by an Act of Parliament and had the first commercially successful steam locomotive in 1812 when it helped to transport a cheap supply of coal, which gave a vital impetus to the growth of Leeds and its industries. There is a great connection between Middleton and Virgin Trains, two Yorkshire-based enterprises, which are and were world leaders in their day.”
Virgin Trains will introduce 65 new Hitachi-built Azuma trains from 2018 which will create many extra services and faster and more comfortable journeys.
Virgin Trains’ Major Projects Director Tim Hedley-Jones said: “While we’re planning to launch the next exciting chapter of rail travel with our brand new Azuma trains from next year, our ‘steam team’ took time out from the day job to get back to basics with this fantastic and historically very significant railway.
“It’s important to Virgin Trains that we promote and protect the history and heritage of our east coast route – and the experience of acting as railway navvies and even driving a steam locomotive has been inspiring for our people.”
Virgin Trains launched a new timetable last month which will see an additional 15 services on Saturdays between Leeds and Wakefield and London King’s Cross. This has effectively created a half hourly service between Leeds and the capital six days per week. When combined with additional improvements in December 2016, the new timetable means there will be an extra 600,000 seats available compared to a year ago. Virgin Trains last month announced that 115,000 seats would be available for £16 for customers travelling between Leeds or Wakefield and London on the additional Saturday services.