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What's it like to be a Railway Controller?

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North -Norfolk -Railway

Continuing this month’s Steam theme we’ve managed to get Andrew Munden, General Manager at North Norfolk Railway (NNR) based in Sheringham, to spare some time to speak to us about running one of the country’s busiest Heritage railways.

As a mainline railway man all his working life, how did he come to run one of the country’s busiest Heritage railways?

How did you get involved with North Norfolk Railway

I've worked for the Railway in one form or another for around 38 years, starting with British Railways on the Southern Region, but my involvement with the North Norfolk Railway only began when I became the Network Rail Route Director responsible for Anglia in 2009.

Having taken over at Liverpool Street a member of my staff based at Ely, a chap called Steven Ashling, approached me regarding a project that had begun at Sheringham to reconnect the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) to the Network Railway Sheringham / Cromer branch.

I came up to Norfolk to have a meeting with the Railway management team at Sheringham to discuss the project.  We brought it to a successful conclusion and the link between the NNR and the National network opened in March 2010.

That was my first contact with the railway, and whenever I was out undertaking signal box visits in this part of the world with Steven, we always seemed to gravitate here at some point during the course of the day.

In fact, my wife and I came up and holidayed in Norfolk, but that all came to an end in 2011 when I left Network Rail to become the Operations and Safety Director for Chiltern

Railways and I moved from "infrastructure land" to "train operating company-land".

I thought, at the time, that was probably the end of my association with the NNR - but I stayed as a member of the Society and kept in contact with the Railway, on and off during that period.

It stayed that way until the summer of 2016 when the NNR approached me and asked whether I’d be interested in taking over as General Manager!

What is your average working day like?

The NNR is a larger organisation than many people realise - as such my responsibilities are completely split.  I would say my role is 60% tactical, 40% strategic. I effectively look after running the entire business, which I do in conjunction with our Managing Director.

We have 50 paid staff here, with 3 more people who come in for the summer months to run the tourist information centre in Sheringham, and that’s underpinned by around 370 volunteers!

Quite apart from the business of running a busy heritage railway we have a sizeable engineering business which not only looks after our own in-house locomotives, but undertakes overhaul work for customers across the UK and Europe.

Whilst we occasionally overhaul complete locomotives, boilers are our particular speciality - At the moment for instance we've got 5 boilers in from places as far afield as Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France in addition to boilers from here in the UK.

We've recently finished overhauling a boiler for the Whitwell / Reepham Railway just down the road from here. We've also got a boiler here from the Swanage Railway - We've got a narrow gauge boiler from the Midland Railway Centre at Butterley. So its a huge variety of work we do.

In my role I can go from looking at the order book for our overhauls business to worrying about what's happening with the website, to looking at the more strategic stuff like insurance renewal.  I'm also qualified as a guard, so if any of our volunteers get ill, I may get called on to grab my bag and jump on a train.

The only thing you can definitely say is that there is no "typical" day here!

What is it you enjoy most about working at the North Norfolk Railway?

You can put it under a couple of headings;

One is that Norfolk is the most beautiful county to live and work in.  Having lived in North East Surrey all my life this was quite a move for my wife and I, to up sticks from Surrey and move to Sunny Norfolk, but the quality of life is superb.

Since I've been here I’ve been fortunate enough to become the chairman of the Sheringham Chamber of Trade, and also board director for Community Rail Norfolk, which is the overarching organisation looking after the Bittern Line Community Rail Partnership and the Wherry Line Community Rail Partnership.

The other thing I enjoy is the sheer variety of the job that makes it fascinating and interesting.  Although I've been on the railway 38 years I never expected that I would need to learn about various aspects of mechanical engineering on steam locomotives - which is great, because it's good to continue learning all the time.

The other key thing is that we have the most amazingly dedicated team of staff and volunteers here.

The railway runs 2600 odd trains a year, which is more than many heritage railways do. We have a longer operating season, so we're operating at least 10 trains every day from the end of March to the middle of November.

That’s a huge call on our Volunteers, who are all, without exception, brilliant people and an absolute pleasure to work with.  It was the people that really convinced me to come and work here!

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By Bressingham at 16 May 2019, 00:00 AM