Custodians of the railway: Celebrating Arriva Trains Wales’ stalwarts

In 1964, Winston Churchill was still alive, Goldfinger was in all the cinemas, and the Beatles were dominating the charts. It was the year that three men would join the railway for a career which has spanned 162 years between them.

Ron Jones, Rodney Fitzgibbon and Gerald Plant all joined British Rail in 1964 during a turbulent time with the Beeching axe falling on branch lines across the country.

Incredibly all three are still going strong in their 70s now with Arriva Trains Wales.

Having begun his career as an engine cleaner, train driver Ron Jones moved on to being second man on the last generation steam trains before driving the very first diesel locomotives. Ron, from Sutton Weaver near Frodsham, started at Northwich engine shed as a steam engine locomotive cleaner progressing rapidly to Fireman and passed Second Man prior to moving to Chester as a Relief driver. He is believed to be one of the last active drivers in the UK who learnt his trade in the age of steam.

“I’ve always enjoyed the variety of the routes, going to locations like Birmingham International, Manchester and along the North Wales coast,” said Ron, who grew up in Cheshire and joined at the age of 15.

“I’m proud to be based at Chester station, built by the world-famous railway engineer Thomas Brassey.”

Gerald Plant, 69, has been working at Hereford Station since he was a teenager and incredibly has never taken a day off ill during all that time.

“I’d always found the railway very interesting and once I started I never really wanted to leave,” said Gerald, who was also an RMT safety rep for more than 30 years.

“I joined at 15 in Hereford as a lad porter and back then there was a lot more freight so we had a goods end on the station and that’s where I worked. I’ve been lucky with my health never to have had a day off ill and I’ve been fortunate to work with some really lovely people and I know a lot of the passengers coming through Hereford every day so I still really enjoy it. It’s changed a lot and privatisation was the biggest thing really. Arriva have been a good company and a lot of the directors will say hello when they’re passing through.

“There are a lot more passengers now too that’s for sure.”

More than 800 people have worked through the full 15 year Arriva Trains Wales franchise, many of whom have notched up 20, 30 and even 40 years of service on the railway.

Still going strong at Llandudno Junction is Rodney Fitzgibbon, 72. A railway enthusiast since his schooldays, Rodney and two of his friends all joined the railway as teenagers in north Wales. “The other two are both retired now but I just keep on turning up!” said Rodney. “I’ve made dozens of friends and every day I’m on the platforms I see someone I know.

“I read in a magazine the other week about someone working at a London station who’s 80 but I’m not sure if I’ll quite beat that!”

The three have no plans to retire and say they are looking ahead to see what changes come in as the Wales and Borders franchise moves to Transport for Wales.

Arriva Trains Wales HR Director Gareth Thomas said: “It’s incredible to think that these guys are still working into their late 60s and early 70s and that shows just how much passion there is for the railway and what a fantastic place to work.

“People like Rodney, Gerald and Ron are the backbone of the railway in Britain and over the years they will have passed on their knowledge and skills to the next generation. The fact that more than 800 of our colleagues have worked throughout the full 15 years of Arriva and more really does indicate that the railway is a great place to work.”