Back before Christmas, myself and my brother were looking for a present to get our Dad, very much of a train buff. The suggestion of a driver footplate experience had come up so we started to look around.
Looking at the various preserved railways you’re looking at quite a lot of money – for example the Watercress Line charges £250 for a three hour introductory footplate experience that lasts three hours and is shared with two others. Then my brother took a look at the Pecorama experience. Although it’s on their miniature steam railway, it’s a 1:1 course, is seven hours, but is still cheaper than a full size engine. Given that we used to make an almost religious pilgrimage to Peco every year when we were in Devon, we thought we’d go for that.
It proved to be an excellent choice. We went down for the first week in May, coincidentally when my Dad’s birthday falls, and the driver experience course was booked on the Wednesday. At 9:30am Dad turned up for his briefing, when he was taken around the track, talked through the signals and line procedures. He was then taken by the instructor up to get the engine ready – this is right from cold with all the preparation. By lunchtime they were going through the basics of how to drive, and by the end of the day Dad was able to drive the train with a set of coaches around the whole route that the professional drivers use.
The staff at Peco were excellent and really friendly. We took the children down, who had a fantastic time in the exhibition, but once Dad had progressed to hauling coaches they allowed us all to ride the line with him driving – great fun riding on Grandpa’s train! Certainly if you’re looking for a driving experience course I can certainly recommend the Peco experience, the locomotives are miniature steam engines, and operate in exactly the same way as a full size locomotive, and you’ll see the whole process right from starting the locomotive in the morning through to putting it to bed at the end of the day.
I had my little video camera with me, and I’ve got two videos. The first is just Dad’s final circuit and taking the locomotive back to the depot – something you wouldn’t normally see. The other video is rather longer, and is effectively all the footage I took edited together as a memento of the day for Dad. It includes several runs around the line, one with the professional driver, the rest with Dad driving, plus various other bits with Dad learning to drive, and travelling around the line in several variations you wouldn’t usually see. Be warned, there is ninety minutes of it!