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Calls to scrap “outdated” legislation that prevents youngsters from volunteering on heritage railways

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail (APPGHR) wants the law changing to legally allow under 16s to volunteer on heritage railways.

APPGHR describes the Employment of Women, Children and Young Persons Act 1920 as “outdated” and  “divisive” as it makes it unlawful to employ people under the age of 16 on railways, including as volunteers, despite the Office of Rail and Road confirming it has no intention of enforcing it.

A section of the act was unnoticed until 2015 when the Heritage Railway Association’s leading counsel confirmed it was unlawful to allow volunteers under 16 to undertake work on a heritage railway, according to the group.

Despite this, of the 22,000 volunteers on heritage railways some 774 are under 16, undertaking tasks such as locomotive cleaning, ticket inspections, litter picking, catering and general station duties. No prosecution has ever been brought under the relevant section of the act either.

In a report titled ‘Engaging the Next Generation: Young People and Heritage Railways’, APPGHR said this obstruction, which has made managers reluctant to allow work to be taken by under 16-year-olds, risks losing this young demographic altogether to railways, as they find another outlet for their interests at a crucial stage in their lives.

The report also concluded that more young volunteers need to be attracted to work on heritage railways if these railways are to survive in the long-term.

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Heritage railways contribute to local economic growth, tourism, employment, social cohesion and accessibility are are an important recruiting ground for the national rail network. However, they could not exist without their base of volunteers. 

The report also reveals that around five per cent of volunteers are under 18 and the number of young female volunteers is less than one per cent.

APPGHR chair Nicky Morgan said: “This report shows the important role of heritage railways in education and the training of young people, not just in the technical aspects of railways, but in life skills as well.

“It is a symmetrical relationship as young people benefit greatly from working on heritage railways, while the future of heritage railways is greatly dependent on the young people they attract.”

APPGHR has committed to raise the issue with ministers to try and get the relevant section of the Act repealed –  or to disapply it in relation to heritage railways and tramways – by the time of the 100th anniversary of the original act.

Subject to a change in law, it also wants to see the number of young volunteers to double to around 1,500 by 2025.

Picture: Emma Harrison, then 17, was the first female apprentice to join the Severn Valley Railway along with four other new recruits at the Heritage Skills Training Academy back in 2015.

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