The young people that are the future of Middleton Railway

A group of ten young people pose with a certificate in front of a steam locomotive called 'Sir Berkeley'

Middleton Railway was celebrating its Youth Group who took over the running of the railway today (6 August 2023).

The group was awarded their runners up certificate in the Rising Stars category of the Heritage Railway Association (HRA).

Presenting the award, Noel Hartley, a Director at the HRA, said:

“It’s important to recognise the achievements of young people and the achievement of the railway in organising a youth group to engage and nurture young people.

“It’s very impressive to be runners up given the size of the organisation.”

Noel Hartley (Heritage Railway Assocation) gives the certificate to Joel Leverton. Credit: Richard Croft

John Linkins, Youth Group Leader at Middleton Railway talked about how the group was established in 2017 and how they had established a system for young people to volunteer safely at a working railway. He said:

“They are an absolute credit to the railway and to their families.

“Although we’ve got a few older volunteers working today, we are operating the railway today with an average age of 19.4 years. We might be the world’s oldest railway but we haven’t got the world’s oldest crew, which is important for the future.

“Not just our future here, but important for their future. Important for the skills it builds in them, it’s important for their employment, and it’s made a difference to the young people’s lives.”

Alex Smith has been volunteering at Middleton Railway since he was 14. Now 20, he is an intern at Network Rail and hopes to make his career on the railways. He told South Leeds Life:

“I felt very honoured to receive the award on behalf of the Youth group as a whole. It’s a major stepping stone for the group. It helps to get the word out there that we are here, we are doing things, and we want to encourage young people to do more and get involved.”

“I’ve been in the workshops, been on the footplate and I’m Guarding now. Guarding is very skilled work, we did our Guards Theory Exam and our Guards Practical Exam, plus all our route learning. Whilst it’s only a short route here, it’s important to have that knowledge, which you can share with the passengers.”

Sisters Ellen and Ailsa Sayles are also old hands. Ellen brought her sister along when she started her first volunteering role as an Elf on the Santa Specials, aged just 8.

“We came quite regularly, I like trains, I had my train set. I was that child that had dolls and trains” said Ellen.

They got more involved during the pandemic working in the workshop, painting, doing track work, helping to fire engines and generally learning about the workshop and how the engines work.

There are only a few young women in the youth team, but Ellen and Ailsa don’t see it as a problem.

“Everyone is used to us and the group is very friendly and well supervised by John (Linkins)” said Ellen.

“I’d encourage anyone to have a go, come down and talk to people here, it’s a strong youth group and people are very welcoming. It looks good CV-wise, but it’s also just the enjoyment of doing it and meeting lots of new people, from lots of different places, different backgrounds. It’s a good experience.”

When asked about their proudest moment, like all railway enthusiasts, the sisters agree: riding on the footplate and helping to drive the train.

Find out more about volunteering at Middleton Railway at:

The Middleton Railway was built in 1758 and is the first railway authorised by an Act of Parliament, the first to have commercially successful steam locomotives, in June 1812, and also the first standard gauge preserved railway, opening in June 1960. It has operated trains every year since opening in 1758.


Main photo: Members of the Youth Group with their runners up certificate at Park Halt station, Alex Smith far left, Ailsa Sayles holding certificate, John Linkins squatting at the front.  Credit: Richard Croft


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