Rio Grande 482 with a load of passengers. Photo by Tyler Howie
The Diamond Valley Railway (DVR) has been part of the Eltham community since 1961. And since day one of their operations, they have been offering train rides to delighted passengers.
A lot has changed at the miniature railway over the past 62 years, most notably the train stock. Once upon a time, their carriages were a simple construction consisting of the carriage base, no sides, and exposed wheels. Back then, passengers had to balance precariously on the seats, trying not to topple too far over on either side.
These days, safety is their number one priority. On the morning of each running day, volunteers at the DVR start by inspecting the trains and the track. The railway’s vice president Tyler Howie explains that while they open to the public at 11am, the volunteers have a lot to do before the first train ride of the day.
“We arrive early so each train can go through a safety check that includes a run through of the wheels, chains, batteries, doors, brakes, and we make sure the carriages are all connected.”
After that, the trains go for a test run and have a secondary inspection. And while that is happening, the drivers also will clear any tree branches that may have fallen onto the track overnight.
Each train that departs the station with passengers has a driver at the front and a guard at the back. The guard’s role is to ensure the passengers are not doing anything dangerous with their hands or overbalancing the trains. They also make sure the driver is obeying the signals. And they have access to an emergency brake if the train needs to stop quickly.
Each ride on the miniature railway takes passengers on an adventure over bridges, past native bushland, and through the darkened tunnels. When he is driving the train and going through the tunnels, Tyler says he encourages children to scream as loudly as they can.
“Occasionally I’ll turn around and say to them, look, that was only a 6 out of 10!” he jokes.
While it is not a prerequisite for DVR volunteers to be train enthusiasts, it does seem to be a common theme. Club secretary Craig Davey estimates that 70% of their volunteers have a passion for trains. And when prompted, he admits that he too has model trains at home.
Davey began his time at the club four years ago when he was retired and looking for a hobby. He tells me that there is a noticeable disparity when it comes to the age groups of their volunteers.
“We tend to get young people joining, and then there’s a big gap where we’ve got people who are close to retirement age,” he said.
But at the other end of the age spectrum, things are quite different. The railway allows new members to join from age 15. Tyler Howie drove his first train with passengers on his 16th birthday, and by his 18th birthday, he had qualified to become a steam train driver.
“Steam is more difficult (than electric or diesel) because you’ve got to shovel the coal, and manage the water and the boiler pressure at the same time as driving the train. But it’s way more fun,” Howie said.
Davey says the club always needs new members with diverse talents. They have roles in administration, gardening, passenger services, train guards, train drivers, and repairs and maintenance.
So, if you have a passion for trains (making you part of the 70% that really likes trains), or you can’t tell a rolling stock from a signal box (making you part of the 30%), feel free to enquire about becoming a volunteer.
If you want to experience the fun of Eltham’s miniature railway, they are open every Sunday from 11am. (Don’t forget to scream when you’re going through the tunnel!)