They just wave flags and blow whistles, don’t they?

Train guards have a vitally important role to play on any railway – real or imagined – but what exactly do they do? Ian Lamb discovers that it’s an awful lot more than many of us might imagine.

An essential part of any model railway layout featuring a station is the provision of suitable train guards, and such figures, in varying degrees of quality and finesse, are available for all the popular gauges.  

What would a station scene like this be without a guard? In this Scottish layout, D11/2 4-4-0 No 62690 Lady of the Lake awaits the ‘right away’ at Leven station. 

At heritage railways all around the country it’s the train driver, especially if he’s on the footplate of a steam locomotive, who invariably takes the spotlight with visitors, although no doubt others have an equal right to such recognition, but on this occasion I want to focus on the role of guards – now an endangered species as today’s railways try hard to discredit them or remove them from the scene entirely.

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As to why someone would wish to become a guard on a preserved railway rather than, for instance, a coach fitter, I asked two very keen railway modelling friends why they chose to take on such duties, and also to tell me about the special moments they had experienced over the years.

Flags in hand, Paul Appleton, a volunteer guard on the Severn Valley Railway, chats to one of the footplate crew aboard spotless  ‘Manor’ 4-6-0 No 7802 Bradley Manor.

First though, it’s important to realise that there is much more to being a guard than blowing a whistle and waving a flag!

Paul Appleton became involved in guard duties on the Severn Valley Railway in 2014, and since then he’s heard many a passenger say: “He’s got a good job,” or: “I wouldn’t mind doing that – riding the trains and just waving a flag now and then,” but this simply underlines the public misconception of what a guard really does. Some think that guards don’t check tickets, or that the big brake wheel in the guard’s van is some kind of steering wheel!

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An endangered species on the national network? On February 2 last year, the conductor/guard of the 08.21 Glasgow Queen Street to Oban service prepares to give the ‘right away’ signal to his driver before the four-car Class 156 train leaves the remote Arrochar & Tarbet station island platform on the West Highland Line. 

In fact it’s the guard who is actually in charge of the train. If he wants to stop it, he can do so, and equally it cannot go anywhere unless he says so.

Andrew Allardyce has been a member of the Strathspey Railway in the Scottish Highlands for several years, but work and other commitments prevented him from taking an active part.

For the full article and to view more images, see the March 2019 edition of Modelling – available now!

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