Vintage Trains’ driver, Ray Churchill, has taken the decision to hang up his grease top and a signature red scarf as he retires from a jam-packed railway career on the mainline.
Ray was born in 1941, and remembers travelling to family holidays in his father’s motorbike and sidecar and waving past a GWR Dukedog in Barmouth. From his first ride behind a steam locomotive, he was hooked.
His passion led to a Saturday job at the local butchers to fund his interest. A visit to Bescot depot landed him a cleaner job, earning him 72 shillings and 6 pence a week in 1957.
Ray passed out as a fireman in 1966, having completed several turns on the West Coast Mainline; however, steam by then had disappeared from Bescot.
8F 48195 was borrowed from Saltley Shed to allow Ray to pass out on a steam locomotive, and further training meant he earnt driver status in 1972.
Ray continued to work at Bescot throughout BR and other companies before retiring from EWS in 2001.
He didn’t stay away from the railways for long though, as in 2002 he was approached by West Coast Railways to drive steam tours across the UK.
These years were the ‘icing on the cake’, says Ray with WCRC learning him the road into Cornwall. However, he retired from WCRC in 2016.
Once again, it wasn’t long before Ray returned to mainline steam operations, as in 2018, Vintage Trains approached Ray with plans to grow into the heritage railtour sector. At first, Ray was reluctant, but seeing Clun Castle at Tyseley Locomotive Works twisted his arm.
For the 2019 season, Ray was at the helm of 7029 Clun Castle and 45596 Bahamas, with a major highlight for Ray being The Polar Express.
Sadly, 2020 wasn’t a year to remember, with the Coronavirus pandemic cancelling all Vintage Trains tours. Ray is in his late 70s, and realised he could only be on the footplate if he ‘effectively started from scratch’ with route refreshing alongside medicals.
So after 60 years on the railway, the red scarf, along with one of the legends of heritage steam in the UK, Ray Churchill, has decided to call it a day.
Michael Whitehouse, Chairman of Vintage Trains, said: “Only recently did I learn that Ray and I first met on the footplate of the very last Harborne Express in 1963, little did we know then that our paths would cross again in the new millennium. His willingness to step out of retirement in 2018 and drive on VT tours was an enormous help in establishing our own operations as a TOC. Vintage Trains is a strong, integrated team and the Churchills have been a core part of our operation, Ray delivering some spectacular performances on the main line with his usual finesse and care for his steed, while his wife Nickey is busy on board selling souvenirs to our passengers. We wish them both a long and healthy retirement and look forward to seeing them both regularly at Tyseley. I’m sure that Ray will need no persuasion to take the regulator again on our open days!”
Support the website and get member benefits in return
The latest railway news
Railway Prints, DVD’s / Blu-Ray’s, books and more
Come and share your railway pictures
UK STEAM INFO
Upcoming mainline steam tours/loco movements
Visit their website