Eastbourne man signals end of 54 years on railway

A man from Eastbourne is retiring after 54 years on the railway.

Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 9:55 am
Updated Wednesday, 7th April 2021, 9:55 am
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Bob Bigsby said farewell to his colleagues as he retired from his job as Avanti West Coast service manager.

He is one of the longest serving employees on the West Coast Main Line after joining the railway in 1967 at the age of 15.

As a teenager, Bob joined the railway after arriving at Euston Station on April 3, 1967 and was given a role on a British Rail Service from London to the Lake District and back, where he pot-washed in the kitchen for First Class passengers.

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Bob, now 69, said, “They gave me an induction which didn’t last long. By 10am, I was on the train to Windermere. It was a shock because I’d barely left London. I was worried about my parents who had no idea when I’d be home – it was before the mobile phone days.”

Bob has held a number of roles working on the trains while travelling millions of miles on the network. These have included an assistant steward, steward, chief steward and finally as a service manager for Avanti West Coast leading First Class and wider catering service on board.

He has also worked on the Royal Train since 1974, including the Queen’s Silver, Golden, and Diamond Jubilees as well as being awarded the Royal Victorian Medal in 1999 for his role on the service.

He said, “I went to Buckingham Palace to collect the Royal Victorian medal. As the Queen was moving along the line of people, she said to me ‘we’ve been together for quite some time, haven’t we?’”

Explaining why he stayed in the job for so long, Bob said, “It’s the joy of meeting people that the railway brings. It’s the comradeship between the colleagues and the variety of customers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. I can honestly say I’ve had fun every single day.

“But like a lot of people I took stock of things during the lockdown. I’ve still got my good health and the time to retire just feels right.”

For someone who has seen plenty of changes over the years, Bob said it’s the evolution of technology which has had a major impact.

“Technology has revolutionised things,” he said. “Whether it was my roster or orders, I had to write it all down or deliver and pick up notices all over the station. Now it’s all just a call or a click away.

“But what has stayed the same is the friendship of the staff. There’s always been so much support and love, and if you’re in this world you’ll know what people mean by ‘railway family.’ Everyone stands by each other and that’s priceless.”

Paying tribute to Bob, his manager Kelsea Davies said, “He’s been on the railways for over half a century and I don’t think we’ll ever see this length of service again.“It’s such a pleasure to work with him and he knows the job inside out. He set a very high standard and he’ll be impossible to replace.”