Hands-on Support

The Duke needs the continuing financial support of Trust members, but also needs non-financial support.

The Duke needs Support Crew before and when in traffic.

During Overhaul

There’s always work to do on The Duke during a heavy overhaul. If you have the time and the energy to work on The Duke at Tyseley Locomotive Works (TLW) within one of our Working Parties then please get in touch. Currently, Covid-19 restrictions don’t allow us to visit TLW to work on The Duke but when they are lifted Working Parties will resume.

Working Party resumption will be announced on these pages and through our usual news channels.

On the Road

The Support Coach and Crew are an essential part of the long distance operation of preserved steam locomotives in the United Kingdom on the main line network. Since main line steam operation ended in 1968, the static infrastructure and paid staff required to support steam locomotive operation no longer exists, requiring the use of support coaches and crews to travel with The Duke. The crews are made up of volunteers from locomotive preservation societies. The support crew supplements the three-man professional train crew consisting of the Driver, Fireman and Traction Inspector, who are employed by the Train Operating Company (TOC) for charter trains and railtours.

The Duke Support Crew is made up of volunteers, and you will often have to travel long distances just to assemble, before carrying out your duties on our locomotive. The Support Crew numbers around half a dozen people on each outing, and depending on their roles, will often include either professional railwaymen, or volunteers or employees of our partner steam heritage railways.

A typical commitment of a Support Crew’s time is 100 hours for 5 hours of actual train running, although commitments of up to 7 days are not unknown. In the immediate future commitments as huge as this are unlikely.

When back in traffic The Duke Support Crew members must have the following:

  • a Personal Track Safety (PTS) certificate and
  • a recent medical

as a minimum before being considered for Support Crew membership. Both of these will have to be obtained at the Support Crew member’s own expense. The PTS is a 2 day course the cost of which varies dependent on numbers participating and the medical could be in the region of £70.


Before any steam railtour can commence, the support crew must prepare The Duke for operation. The crew will then accompany it on any required positioning moves or light engine moves, as well as on the actual railtour. The crew will service The Duke at stops for coal/water, and at terminal stations. While stationary at terminal stops, and at the end of the run, the crew will also clear the ashpan as part of a disposal routine.

Preparing The Duke is a time-consuming activity, involving a physical inspection of the locomotive and support coach. After The Duke and support coach passes an independent fitness-to-run exam, members of the crew light The Duke’s fire, and commence cleaning and oiling the engine while the steam pressure is raised. The Duke can take up to 18 hours to reach operating steam pressure when raised from cold.

During water stops, as well as refilling 71000’s tender with water and possibly coal, the Support Crew should inspect the engine oil levels and check for overheating in mechanical bearings. The crew will also tend the fire and provide food for the footplate crew.

While on the move, most of the Support Crew ride in the support coach. One crew member rides on the footplate, to act as The Duke owner’s representative. This person assists the train crew who have general knowledge of steam locomotives and the UK mainline by offering specialist knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of our locomotive, and reacting to matters arising. On the move, the remaining crew in the support coach will also record The Duke’s performance while operating, including punctuality and fuel efficiency.

Water stops

The UK no longer has any water troughs and very few water cranes on the mainline network, as opposed to on heritage railways. Cranes that remain include Appleby, Scarborough and Grosmont. Most water stops today are therefore carried out using firehoses carried on the support coach. Water is sourced either from road tankers, or from hydrants, but with tankers preferred due to pressure variation and the risk of boiler contamination from hydrant sources. The traditional water stop is 45 minutes, although the lack of available sidings and scheduling requirements often mean that short ‘splash and dash’ arrangements occur using road tankers, which can deliver 2,500 gallons in 12 minutes, using two pipes.

We are hoping that The Duke will be back in traffic in autumn this year. The actual time or date that she will need a dedicated team to support her when running on the mainline is still a little unclear.

Being part of the Service Crew is like being a member of The Duke’s extended family. Though at times the working day can be long there is a great deal of pleasure to be had working behind the scenes. Seeing the numerous onlookers as we travel over Network Rail metals is reward in itself.

Joining the The Duke’s Support Crew

If, after reading all the above, especially the requirements, you are still interested in becoming a member of the The Duke Support Crew then please email the Support Crew Principal using the form below.

We’d love to have you in our ‘Crew.


Any time given to the Trust is purely voluntary and although it is likely to be very rewarding, it will not be remunerated.