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One of the most interesting peculiarities of the Children’s Railway is the fact that most of the tasks of commercial services and traffic management are carried out by children aged ten to fourteen.
Tickets are sold by a young participant at the booking office, arriving and departing trains are announced by a child’s voice over the loudspeaker, engine drivers are given permission to start their trains by another child, and it also children conducting and keeping passengers informed in the carriages. Behind the scenes, the sometimes complex work of managing trains, booking the line, operating signalling and implementing safety measures are also done by Children’s Railway participants.
Of course, children on duty are constantly supervised by adult railway employees. They are there to assist them and, in case of an extraordinary situation or a technical failure, assume duty themselves. There is an adult, fully trained employee of the railway company of age at every station on duty as the station master. The engine drivers, train crew chiefs and the stoker of the steam engines are also adult railway personnel. Maintenance work, training and administrative jobs are also staffed by adults.
The young participants of the Children’s Railway are required to attend a training course before being allowed to take duty. It lasts for four months and ends in customised exams in the major areas of the railway profession. Only those who have successfully completed the training course gain admittance. Like in the case of adult railwaymen, children’s licences expire in one year’s time, therefore they must be renewed every spring.
Children do various types of jobs and can be on duty on any of the seven stations or on trains. It is intentional that every day that they go on duty they fulfil a different position in order to learn as many of them as possible and to make the most fun out of it.
The most senior position a participant can achieve is traffic manager. He is an officer in charge of all the activities at his station and communication with the adjacent stations. Usually a more experienced participant is selected for this post, at least on busy days.
The records keeper is the traffic manager’s second, an officer himself, too. He is in charge of train dispatching activities on the platform and keeping some of the records as well. Officers are distinguished from the rest of the staff by their red caps.
It might be the records keeper himself or another participant to be in charge of the loudspeaker, too, announcing trains and shunting movements to passengers. At stations where switches are operated manually, participants fulfil the positions of switchmen as well. The booking offices of the stations are also manned with children.
On the trains conducting is done by children, too. They check passengers’ tickets, sell them to those who were unable to buy them before embarking the train, and keep them informed along the journey. One of them sells postcards, maps and other souvenir items on board. Another one has special tasks at the last station when the train changes direction. He is responsible for applying the hand break for the duration of the engine’s run around movement and marking the end of the train before departure.
Girls and boys are treated equally, except for switchmen’s positions. With regard to the physical aspects of the operation of some mechanical equipment, only older participants are allowed to work with them. Switches operated by hand from the signal box of Szechenyi-hegy station can only be handled by boys with a good physique for the same reason.
Children go on duty every fifteenth day on average. They are unpaid, participate on a voluntary basis. Their absence from school on weekdays are excused by their respective headmasters at the request of the manager of the Children’s Railway. By this procedure it can be ensured that participants make a satisfying progress at school as long as they attend the Children’s Railway.
A great majority of the passengers of the Children’s Railway board the trains in order to observe primary school children doing real railway work — adults with acknowledgement, younger children with envy. For most of the participants railway duty is fun and a playful way of learning responsibility and team work.