An all-female crew have driven the last steam train of the season on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Beth Furness and Alexandra Jolly drove the last steam train of the season on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
Beth Furness and Alexandra Jolly drove the last steam train of the season on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway
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The 2019 season on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway drew to a close on Sunday with a reminder of just how much the line's volunteer demographics are changing.

The last service, a 16.55 steam departure from Whitby to Pickering, was driven by Beth Furness, who became the first female driver on the NYMR back in 2013. For the journey, her 'fireman' was Alexandra Jolly, one of an increasing number of women taking on volunteer footplate duties on the preserved heritage line.

Volunteers who aspire to become drivers must start as engine cleaners, who perform locomotive maintenance, before moving on to working as firemen - who keep the engine fed with coal - and finally undertaking driver training.

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Peter Fisher from the NYMR photographed the all-female crew on the footplate of the B1 class locomotive as the line closed for the winter.

Services will not resume until April, although there are several special Christmas trains running during the festive period.

"The NYMR now has quite a few female members of staff who work the footplate; drivers, firemen and cleaners. Although firemen and signalmen have ‘men’ in the titles of roles within the railway, both male and female members of staff take these roles on and still continue to use the traditional titles, which helps to preserve these historic roles," explained Peter.

Beth joined the NYMR in 2000, becoming a fireman in 2002 and a driver in 2013. She also works full-time at the National Railway Museum in York.

When she first volunteered, women on the footplate were rare.

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"I got hooked on the footplate! When I came up here I originally I wanted to work on the track. The drivers and firemen were all blokes.

"You've got to learn to drive in all weathers and in different conditions. I was the first woman on the footplate, although there are a few now who want to train and who are working their way up the firing ranks.

"The reaction when I was first in the cab was one of suspicion. People thought I wasn't up to it - although it has become a lot easier over time.

"There are some really positive people who are pleased to see you, but there is also complete suspicion and sometimes grudging respect. I've had some awful exchanges with people who just weren't prepared for the sight of a woman on the footplate - having a bloke there is the status quo. There have been inappropriate comments about woman drivers but I just block those out. Lots of people come to say hello to me too!

"The challenge of driving such a powerful engine is to control it in a way that is safe. On a good day the engine sounds amazing and we often get feedback from passengers if it has been a smooth ride. That gives you an enormous sense of pride.

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"It's in the blood - I'll keep going until my body gives up."

The locomotive operated by Beth and Alexandra was designed for the LNER for both passenger and freight workings and built in 1947. It hauled express services between Nottingham, Leicester and London Marylebone before being withdrawn in 1965. It is now owned by the Thompson B1 Locomotive Trust and in 2018 was repainted in its original LNER black livery.

Christmas services will run between Pickering and Grosmont from Boxing Day until New Year's Day, calling at Levisham and Goathland. The 2020 timetable begins on April 6.

To volunteer on the railway visit www.nymr.co.uk/volunteer