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It has been running on steam on Tasmania’s remote west coast for more than a century, now the company running the island state’s iconic Abt steam railway is training up a new generation of drivers before decades of specialist knowledge dies out.
It is 7:00am on a foggy day in the mining heartland of Tasmania, and Brock Sutton is heading in to work.
He thinks he has one of the best offices in Australia, and it's hard not to agree with him.
The 21-year old local is learning to drive heritage steam trains in Tasmania's rugged and remote west.
It has been a dream of his since he was a young kid growing up in the industrial town of Burnie.
"It's always been my dream to become a train driver," he said, "This is where it starts."
It's his fourth week on the job at West Coast Wilderness Railway, and he's all fired up.
"As an enthusiast, any chance you get to fulfil your passion, you're a winner," he said, hands covered in grease after prepping the intricate joints which litter the trains innards.
The trains started running in the 1890s, plying goods from Queenstown to Strahan — the oldest train is from this era but the one Mr Sutton is working on today is a relative baby, having come on board in 1938.
The trains were key in connecting the mining communities in the region before adequate roads existed.
They fell into decline in the 1960s but were later revitalised as a tourist operation under Federal Group.
The company then pulled out of the contact and closed the train line in 2013 with the route losing money.
It was revitalised one year later with government funding.
On the day we visit Mr Sutton, he's shadowing Graeme Hind, a driver with decades of experience.
"He's very nervous but we'll keep him in check," Mr Hind said amid the clang of spanners and the intense hiss of the train as its mechanical belly heats up.
The railway needs young drivers to keep the dying profession of steam train driving alive with all the current drivers in their late 50s or older.
The railway's general manager, Anthony Brown, said enlisting new blood was critical to the railway's survival.
"We sat down a little while ago and it is a dying breed or a dying art that's actually no longer used in a lot of areas, so for us, the need to bring the younger ones in is a priority," Mr Brown said.
"I'm certainly excited about what I do. It's something that I've enjoyed most of my life and it's a great feeling to be able to share that knowledge with a new generation that hopefully are going to be driving steam locomotives long after I'm gone," Mr Hind said.
"It's pretty important for heritage railways like west coast railway to train up young people like Brock."
And for what makes a good train driver, Mr Hind has this sage advice:
"It's important for him to study up ... there's a lot of theory that he needs to understand, he needs to get a lot of exposure to the various things that can happen on locomotives.
"And probably the single most important things is he needs to listen from the old hands, listen to what the old hands tell him," he laughed.
Mr Sutton said he wouldn't be moving on anytime in the near future.
"I'm lucky I get to do what I've wanted to do, it's such a privilege to work on the steam engines, not many people get to do it now it's such a rare art."
The array of ancient knobs, wheels and levers sheathed in steam make the experience magical and claustrophobic at the same time.
Mr Sutton is hooked.
"I'm lucky and now the journey has begun," he said.
And if steam power stokes your interest, the company has said it is hoping to hire more young drivers soon.
This article first appeared on www.abc.net.au
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