It is probably fair to say that most visitors to the railway don't realise what exactly it is that the PW (Permanent Way) department do.
This is understandable, as (for obvious reasons) we can't work on the track when trains are passing!
So, this page aims to give you an insight into just what it is we get up to.
We are responsible for maintaining the 9 miles of track between Sheffield Park and Kingscote, the sidings at these stations, and (within a variety of sub-groups) the 18 miles of lineside along the way.
This includes 'jacking and packing' the joints in the rails, oiling and replacing fishplates, changing expired sleepers, keeping lineside vegetation down - and that is just scratching at the surface of what we do!
Although much of the work requires a reasonable standard of fitness (since you're on your feet for much of the day), there are also less physical jobs, such as painting lineside signs and maintaining our range of power tools.
However, in no way do you need to be 'superfit' - we like to refer to ourselves as a '9 mile long gym', and like any good gym, you work to your own pace and ability.
Additionally, you don't need any previous experience - we have newcomers working alongside current Network Rail employees.
You'll find that we're a friendly bunch, always willing to help explain things.
One of the few requirements is that you have to be a Bluebell member aged 16 or over (for insurance purposes) - we have a very broad age range in the department, with students to retirees working together.
For safety reasons, you must appreciate that railways are potentially very dangerous environments, and it is everyone's responsibility to maintain the excellent safety record that the Bluebell has built up.
Therefore the "recruitment process" requires you to have a quick discussion with Matt Crawford, the railway's PW manager, so he can content himself you're competent to work in the railway environment. Please don't let this put you off - the process can't be too hard considering all of us have had our sanity officially approved!
Aside from working on the best preserved line in the country, you'll be within comfortable waving distance of all passing trains!
Seriously though, we're friendly people with a (mostly!) excellent sense of humour, and you get the satisfaction of knowing you've done your bit to keep the Bluebell running.
Plus, we're in the middle of the beautiful Sussex weald, with an abundance of wildlife on tap.
Best of all though, the starting salary is an unbeatable £0 per hour, doubling after your first year with us!
how to join us
Firstly, you will need to get a few items of clothing (in addition to the usual items of course!).
Steel toe-capped boots are essential since a lot of the equipment used is not of the weight that you would want to drop on your foot!
You will also need your own gloves, and, dependent on the weather, waterproofs, a suitable hat and suncream.
An ORANGE hi-visibility vest or jacket is required - these can be provided as long as you let us know in advance.
All tools and rails are provided!
Secondly, see what takes your fancy from the list below.
Please note that these are the usual meeting days and are provided as a guide - please contact us first rather than just turning up.
- The weekly track inspection is a very important job in ensuring the line remains safe for our trains.
It involves walking the entire length of the line tightening fish plate bolts, checking for cracked fishplates, replacing fallen chair keys, as well as identifying any problems to be tackled in later meetings.
The Sunday Gang
The gang's core activity is routine maintenance of the main-line, making for varied and interesting meetings.
They also lend a hand in one-off projects as and when they come a long, such as helping out our colleagues in the Carriage and Wagon depot or on the Northern Extension.
The Thursday Gang
The mid-week equivalent of the Sunday gang!
As weekdays generally have fewer trains running than at weekends, the work can be more varied, and special works trains are often arranged in the low-season.
Lineside Clearance Gang
- Meet at 9am on Wednesdays at a pre-arranged location, the gang remove vegetation, clear culverts and ditches, and maintain fencing.
Although these are the regular meetings, there are often infrastructure jobs taking place mid-week all around the Railway under the direction of our PW manager. So there are lots of opportunities to get involved!
If you think PW work might be for you, please contact The Volunteering at the Bluebell coordinator, Clive Soper, by e-mail. Tell him that you would like to volunteer in the P-Way department, and he'll put you in touch with one of us. Why not give us a try for a day - you never know, you might just get hooked!