Round Robins on the Dartmouth Steam Railway

Now that I’ve had several weeks’ experience as a local bus driver for the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company, a blog post is well overdue.

Open-top-No3-Steamer-Quay

Briefly, the company runs steam trains from Paignton to Kingswear, ferries and river boats on the River Dart and a fleet of buses to connect them all together. The most popular outing is the ‘Round Robin‘ which gives travellers a train journey, a boat trip and a bus journey to take them back to where they started from. Visitors can choose which way round they go but this decision is usually dictated by the tides because Steamer Quay at Totnes (which is tidal) cannot be reached at low tide.

In addition to linking in with the trains and boats, the buses also run as a timetabled service for locals – effectively a regular local bus service similar to (and sometimes competing with) Stagecoach and First. Some buses also serve Torquay but most ply between Paignton and Totnes.

The buses in use are two open top Bristol VRTs (one ex-Crosville and one ex-Southdown), three ex-East Yorkshire Olympians and an ex-Plymouth Citybus Dennis Dart. The depot is on land next to the railway’s Churston Station, due to be developed with proper handstandings and buildings over the coming winter. Churston-depot

So, what is a typical day like? At the moment I’m working a duty which just runs between Paignton and Totnes. The duty starts at 13:15 so I leave my car at the Churston depot and take a Stagecoach bus from there to Paignton Bus Station (I’ve been issued with a Staff Bus Pass). When the Service 100 bus arrives at Stand 4 from Totnes I relieve the driver, who has been on duty since about 08:00, and operate the service for the rest of the day.

The changeover is quite quick. The other driver will have already changed the destination blind for Totnes at the previous stop so all that remains for me to do is set up my cash tray and log in to the ‘Ticketer’ system. I’m ready for business so will deal with any passengers waiting at the stand. Some will already have ‘Round Robin’ tickets so they just need to be clipped. Some will have Concessionary Passes so they are counted by the electronic reader pad which is part of the ticketing system. Others will buy single or return tickets either to Totnes or one of many other stops on the way.

After signing my name as Driver 2 on the Running Sheet and noting down the actual departure time, I’m ready to go. Headlights on, hazards on, check mirrors, select reverse, sound the horn and reverse carefully back from the stand. If I’m in one of the Volvo-powered Olympians, progress is quite quick but the VRs, being 20 years older and less powerful, are slower. Summertime traffic will hinder progress of course, no matter which bus I’m driving!

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Driving for Rail-River Link in South Devon

OK, so now I can spill the beans. I am now a local bus driver for Rail-River Link, the bus service arm of the Dartmouth Steam Railway & River Boat Company (formerly the Paignton & Dartmouth Steam Railway).

UWV614S-at-Steamer-Quay

While still looking for a permanent Graphic Design position, I’ve taken a seasonal job at the aforementioned company. I suppose it’s one of the unplanned benefits of having taken my PCV test – it qualifies me for a secondary profession! I was invited to an interview and assessment session on the strength of my bus driver CV, which I had sent to the bus operations manager. When I arrived it appeared that he had already appointed me and rostered me for service the following day!

After that first day my head was spinning and I asked for a few more days’ training so the roster was altered to allow me some proper preparation. I know the area very well so learning the routes was not a problem but getting to know all the ticket types, learning the timetable and using the ticket machine would take longer.

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