PROSPECTIVE engineers are being encouraged to hone their craft at Severn Valley Railway (SVR) when it officially launches its Heritage Skills Training Academy (HSTA) in September.

During the four-year course, apprentices work towards a Level 3 NVQ in engineering. For the first two years, students spend three days a week studying at Telford College and two days at SVR, learning and experiencing all aspects of its operation, for which they are paid. At the end of the two years, the students will gain a recognised Level 2 NVQ in engineering.

In the third and fourth year of the apprenticeship, typically one day a week is spent at college while the other four days are spent in the SVR’s workshops.. Throughout the course, all college fees and daily transport expenses from key points along SVR are covered for trainees.

Trainee James Lewis, 18, started his apprenticeship in September, 2013 moving, from his home town of Swindon - home of the Museum of the Great Western Railway (GWR) - to Kidderminster. He said the best thing about the apprenticeship was being able to indulge his hobby every day.

He explained: “I have been interested in steam railways for a long, long time,adding: “It’s fantastic to be working with steam locomotives and the Severn Valley Railway. Work is my hobby. It’s great to see my contribution to the engine and carriage restoration projects."

Fellow trainee Max Green, 17, said: “It’s great because there’s so much variety to the scheme. Every day is different - you’re never doing the same job.”

The academy is one of three key projects funded by the railway’s share offer and the fund-raising efforts of the SVR Charitable Trust, alongside the restoration of locomotive No. 4930 Hagley Hall. The share offer raised over £2 million in just a year.

Potential trainees, aged 16 or over and their families can find out more about the HSTA during an open day at the railway on Saturday, February 22. The open day will provide further details of the programme and give visitors the opportunity to experience the working environment and ask questions.

SVR has more than 200,000 visitors a year. Run largely by more than 1,200 volunteers, the line runs regular steam passenger trains along a 16-mile route between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth.