22 February 2024

Canberra Miniature Railway running out of puff due to lack of volunteers

| James Coleman
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people on miniature train

All aboard the ‘Jumbuck’. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

The need for volunteers at the Canberra Miniature Railway in Symonston has reached a crisis point, and without people stepping up, rides will be scaled back.

The organisation, run by the Canberra Society of Model and Experimental Engineers (CSMEE), posted a notice to its Facebook page last week about how it’s “severely short of volunteers to help us run our trains”.

“We’re at the point where our operations sometimes have to be restricted due to a lack of operational staff.”

Located off Jerrabomberra Avenue and visible from the Monaro Highway, the Canberra Miniature Railway offers members of the public rides on miniature trains two Sundays a month.

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The site includes two lengths of track, one nearly a kilometre long and another slightly shorter, which duck and weave around obstacles, over bridges and through tunnels. At night, they’re lit up with thousands of computer-controlled LED lights.

CSMEE numbers 70 members, but secretary Craig McGill reckons those who turn up on the running days are way down between eight and 10.

“We need another half-dozen,” he says.

“We’re in trouble. We need more members. The reason is that many retire or move on, and others just get burnt out. That’s the big problem because they feel they have to come along to every single one of our running days.”

Twilight rides at Canberra Miniature Railway

The track is lit up by thousands of colourful LED lights for twilight journeys. Photos: Canberra Miniature Railway.

Since publishing the dire news, Craig says six people turned up to the last open evening on Saturday, 17 February, to “have a look around”. One resulted in a membership application form.

“Four of the six were full-time workers, one’s retired, and the other lady wants to do some gardening work for us, which suits us. We’ve got 15 acres here, and it’s frankly a bit of a mess at the moment.”

Apart from a gardener, the main positions the railway needs to fill include driver, guard and station master.

It’s the job of the station master to open the gates, collect the tickets, load the trains and – perhaps best of all – wave the green flag. The guard sits at the rear of the train, with power to stop the train if they spots any problems. Both have to be a minimum of 15 years old.

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Drivers must be at least 18 years old and are provided with all the training to operate the railway’s fleet of miniature locomotives.

“Each train is different,” Craig explains.

“Some have just a simple battery, so you just turn the knob, and that’s just easy. Others have a petrol engine with an automatic transmission, so you put it in drive and off you go. The only difference is there’s no steering wheel.”

There is a steam-powered train they’re hoping to have back on track in the coming months, too, once it’s returned to good health.

The Canberra Miniature Railway wants to get steam going again. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Another aspect is maintenance.

“These things don’t maintain themselves, so we have a work day every Wednesday, which may not suit those working full-time, but it would suit retirees. We’re looking for people with skills in fixing things.”

Craig stresses that “no experience is necessary” and volunteers can come when they want to – “you don’t have to sign up to any particular schedule”.

He says demand for the railway from among Canberra families “absolutely” remains high.

“It’s a lot of fun, and we do plan to extend the track in the near future, which will make it even more so.”

The Canberra Miniature Railway is open on the second and last Sunday of every month, from 10 am to 2:30 pm, in addition to special events. Visit the CSMEE website for more information or to buy tickets.

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Jamie Griffin10:24 pm 25 Feb 24

If the bus didn’t require an hour walk from Fyshwick, I’d volunteer in a snap.

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