East Lancashire Railway operates regular Diesel Driving Experience Courses, giving you the chance to drive an ex-British Rail mainline locomotive from the ELR fleet. Courses take place over 4 miles of our main line between Bury Bolton Street and either Ramsbottom or Heywood stations, held on pre-arranged dates throughout the year.

A Driving Experience Course at a glance:

  • drive an ex-British Rail main line diesel locomotive with coaches
  • train driving between Bury and Ramsbottom, or Bury and Heywood
  • learning about aspects of railway operation and safety
  • a tour of the extensive ELR site at Bury
  • free membership of ELR Preservation Society

  • The line
  • The section of line between Bury and Ramsbottom is under the control of two mechanical signal boxes at Bury and Ramsbottom, with traditional semaphore signals including the large signal gantry at Bury. This route includes five river bridges crossing the River Irwell as well as three short tunnels and the delightful Summerseat Station Halt.

    In contrast, the route to Heywood has no intermediate station and at Heywood the run round operation is controlled by Ground Frames, there being no signal box. This is more than made up for by the gradients encountered, as you leave Bolton Street Station, dropping down at 1 in 60 to the level of the Castleton to Bolton line, before immediately climbing at 1 in 36 to bridge the Metrolink line before falling at 1 in 41 to regain the level of the original line as it fell towards Roch Viaduct before climbing at 1 in 85 over the M66 Bridge, easing to 1 in 254 for the last mile and a half to Heywood.

    Course details - your day out begins...

    Your day out on East Lancashire Railway begins at 9.00am in the waiting room situated on Platform 3 at Bury Bolton Street Station. Your driving course comprises a morning and afternoon session, with an hour for lunch in between.

    When you arrive at ELR's Bury Bolton Street Station, you will be greeted by our staff, who will be on hand to serve you tea or coffee and biscuits. You will then receive a short talk explaining the various controls of a locomotive, receive a short safety briefing, and be issued with gloves and overalls. You will be ready to climb into the cab of your engine under the guidance of our fully trained crew, for that once in a lifetime opportunity to sample the delights of a diesel locomotive.

    Participants are then split into two groups, each spending half a day with the locomotive and coaches and half a day taking in a guided tour of the ELR Bury site, visiting the Metrolink Intersection Bridge on the start of our line to Heywood, the ELR Carriage & Wagon Works, Baron Street Locomotive Works which is the largest works building on a preserved railway and Bury South Signal Box.

    Please note: you must have sensible walking shoes to take part on the guided tour.

    Locomotive driving

    Whilst with the locomotive and coaches, you will be given instruction to enable you to participate fully as Driver, Secondman and Guard during three round trips to Ramsbottom or Heywood, under the watchful eye of qualified train crew. You will be involved in coupling and uncoupling the locomotive from its coaches at either end of the journey and running the locomotive round the train, under the control of the signalling system or hand signals and observing lineside signs and signals.

    At Ramsbottom this involves crossing Bridge Street over Ramsbottom Station Level Crossing. This is one of the last examples in Lancashire, of the once common gated level crossings, worked by wheel from the adjoining signal box. The day's activities end with the presentation of your certificate, signed by your ELR Driver and Secondman, at approximately 4:30pm.

    Bring friends and family

    You are welcome to bring 1 or 2 members of your family or friends along with you when on Footplate Experience Day. They are welcome to take photographs and videos, enjoy the atmospheric surroundings of the East Lancashire Railway and travel with the Guard whilst you are on the train. Your guests may also accompany you on the tour of the site providing they are wearing sensible walking shoes. Site tours for your guests may be ordered in advance on the booking form (3.00 per person), but additions may be made on the day.

    Please note Footplate Experience Days are an adult activity and it is not recommended that you bring children along on the day as they are not allowed to travel on trains driven by Footplate Experience participants or to accompany you on your guided tour for reasons of safety.


    Lunch is provided for all participants. Should you have any friends or family accompanying you on the day, additional lunches can be ordered in advance on the booking form at 6.50 each. Please let us know beforehand if you or any of your party have any special dietary requirements.

    Health note

    Please advise us if you have any health problems or medical conditions, which you feel may be relevant to your participation in, or your enjoyment of the day.

    Please note participants must be aged 18 years or over to take part in the footplate experience day. There is no upper age limit but please remember participants must be physically fit and able to climb up and down from the footplate of the Locomotive and able to walk over rough ground and ballast on the trackside and trackbed.

    Course prices

    A Diesel Driving Experience Course costs 200 per person. The course fee also includes one year's free membership of the ELR Preservation Society. ELRPS membership includes:

  • 3 free ELR train tickets per year
  • discounted ELR train travel on normal operating days
  • a copy of the twice yearly ELR journal
  • the opportunity to get involved in maintaining and operating the railway
  • The East Lancashire Railway Preservation Society is the organisation supplying the volunteer working members who help to operate and maintain the railway. Although we actively encourage all members to get involved in the practical side, this is not compulsory.

  • Course vouchers

    You may wish to book a Dated Diesel Footplate Experience Voucher, deciding on the specific date for the experience at the time of booking, or alternatively, purchase an Open Diesel Footplate Experience Voucher, popular as a gift, which is valid for twelve months from date of purchase, allowing the experience date to be decided later. Information on how to find the ELR, Parking, Safety and the Programme for the Day, are sent with Dated Vouchers or when the experience date is decided in the case of Open Vouchers.

    In addition, we also operate frequent Steam Footplate Experience days using only ex-British Railways locomotives. For information on Steam Driving Courses please contact Barbara Duncan at the address below, or visit the ELR main website.

    Booking a Driving Experience Course

    Please print out and complete a course booking form by using the this link, and post to the address shown.

    Further information & contacts

    Should you require any further information about Driving Experience Courses or Steam Footplate Experiences, the ELR Special Products Manager, Barbara Duncan, is responsible for the organisation of these days. She can be contacted as follows:

    • East Lancashire Light Railway Company Ltd.
      Barbara Duncan,
      Bolton Street Station,
      Bolton Street,
      Lancashire BL9 0EY
      Tel: 08456 030 804
      Fax: 0161 763 4408