James Gregory's passion for engineering earns him a volunteering award at the Severn Valley Railway.
Trim and Final Maintenance Leader James Gregory has turned his passion for engineering into a volunteering award after using skills gained in his career at Castle Bromwich to help maintain and restore iconic British locomotives at the Severn Valley Railway.
What started as something to do during last Whitsun shutdown, volunteering at the Class 50 Alliance who are responsible for maintaining a fleet of six 1960’s diesel locomotives, has quickly become a major part of James’ life outside of work.
So much so, he was named ‘Volunteer of the Year’ by fellow volunteers at their AGM in November for the huge contribution he’d made in just six months there.
James’ affection for this particular railway goes back much further than last May, over 30 years in fact.
“When growing up, the railway formed a massive part of my own childhood,” he said. “Some of my earliest memories are of trips there with my parents and grandparents, I’m told I first went there at only six months old.
“As a child those locomotives stick in your mind and I’m sure they played a part for me developing a love for all things that go quickly and make a lot of noise whether they’re cars, planes, motorbikes or trains.
James joined JLR in 2003 as an apprentice and has specialised in mechanical and electrical Trim and Final Maintenance here ever since. He’s done stints all over the plant spending at least some time in all of our Trim halls.
He is now responsible for a lot of the planning, project management and maintenance work that goes into keeping our Trim and Final equipment in full working order.
James likes the challenge of leading these projects and coaching his team, however the role does present one drawback…
“I no longer get as much time to get
physically hands on and fix things on the shop floor as I’d like”, James continued. “I’m a big believer in practicing what I preach and have to admit I’ve found it hard to step back from the hands on stuff as my career has progressed.
“In the run up to my holidays I remembered how the volunteers played a huge part at the railway from my own days of enjoying it as a youngster and decided to contact a volunteer liaison officer for the railway to find out how to get involved.”
The Severn Valley Railway stretches for 16 miles along the beautiful Severn Valley between Kidderminster, Bewdley and Bridgnorth and relies on a small army of dedicated volunteers to keep it running, whether that be in the maintenance and engineering side of things where James helps out, or in other roles such as driving, platform roles or railway hospitality.
The railway often attracts volunteers keen to get into the rail industry, those who have spent a career there already and who want to pass on their skills and knowledge to others, and those like James who come from other industries with relevant skills to offer.
“I talked about the skills and experience I’ve earnt during my time with Jaguar Land Rover,” James continued. “The transferable skills I’ve learnt here such as corrective, preventive and emergency maintenance are the same across both automotive and rail disciplines.
“The Class 50 Alliance specialise in maintaining their diesel locomotives. They have six of them in total, all ex British Rail that in their previous lives ran up and down the UK mainline at speeds of 100mph.
“People often think of heritage locomotives being just steam engines, but these diesel trains formed the backbone of British Rail in the 1960s and are an important part of railway heritage in the UK.”
Before he could get his hands on any trains, James first had to first pass through all the health and safety inductions to ensure he could operate safely on a railway. Despite their workforce being made up of volunteers the railway puts safety as the number one priority, as we do here at Jaguar Land Rover.
Once he started work the 33-year-old took to it immediately and ended up there nearly every day during his holiday last year, and most weekends too.
A day volunteering there can vary hugely depending on the task that needs doing and James set about a host of tasks including draining and replenishing the engines’ fluids, checking pistons, maintaining generators, running gears and monitoring tread depths.
James’s biggest challenge there is also the one he’s most proud to say he was involved with...
Similar to our very own Jaguar XJ, the Class 50’s also celebrated their half century last year and as part the celebrations the Class 50 Alliance had big plans to restore a rather unloved locomotive to its former glory.
“The loco had originally been gifted by British Rail to the National Rail Museum,” As James tells us the trains’ somewhat sad backstory. “Unfortunately the Museum didn’t really have space for it in their collection and it was transferred from place to place until eventually it ended up left outside in pretty bad conditions for over 10 years when we found it.
“It was in pretty poor shape, was covered in grime, graffiti and the insides had been rotting away and corroding. There was no chance of it running and it had to be towed back to Kidderminster by a main line locomotive.”
Once it was back in their maintenance facility, James and the team worked tirelessly to fully strip down and rebuild it piece by piece.
“As you can imagine there is a limited supply of spare parts but most aren’t readily available and you need to beg, borrow, and steal to get hold of them. Sometimes you’ll just have to source new ones, or fabricate them from scratch.
“We were able to get the loco back up and running within just three months which is a monumental achievement by all involved. The loco was able to play a starring role in the 50th anniversary gala, is now providing enjoyment for passengers on the railway and even makes trips up and down the mainline for classic railway trips.
“I think that it’s important that these British built classics are still up and running and doing the thing that they were designed to. We want to keep them going, and going and it is a great achievement and feeling to be maintaining things that bring such joy to other people, and that play such a big part in Britain’s history, as does Jaguar and Land Rover.
“That for me is what it is all about, inspiring other people to fall in love with engineering in the same way I did once myself.”
In November the Class 50 Alliance held their annual general meeting where they pick ‘Volunteer of the Year’ for someone who has put in the time and effort and really made a difference.
James who’d only been involved for just over six months at the time was surprised to say the least when his name was announced.
“I found it really humbling as I’d only just been there a relatively short time by that point. I was really proud and chuffed to say the least,” James reflected. “It’s fantastic that thanks to Jaguar Land Rover I now find myself in a position where I can use the skills learnt and developed throughout my career thus far to bring excitement and enjoyment to people using the railway.
“Some people may ask why you’d want to work for free in your own time, but I get so much satisfaction from doing it that it doesn’t feel like work at all. I’d strongly recommend volunteering on a project you are passionate about to anyone. If you’re keen the railway are always looking for more people to help out.”
Thinking back on James’ words he does make a really good point, after all where else do you get the chance to play with your very own 1:1 scale train set?
If you’d like to find out more about volunteering at the Severn Valley Railway you can contact one of their volunteer liaison officers through their website www.svr.co.uk
“It’s fantastic that thanks to Jaguar Land Rover I now find myself in a position where I can use the skills learnt and developed throughout my career thus far to bring excitement and enjoyment to people using the railway."