Bill clocks up half century

RANDALL WALKER
Last updated 12:43 22/08/2013
Bill
RANDALL WALKER

Loving his work: Bill Isted at the controls of a Matangi train.

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Tranz Metro driver Bill Isted clocked up a half ton in the railway business this week and reckons his job has never been so good.

The commuter train driver, who joined New Zealand Railways on August 19, 1963, said advances in technology through investment in rail infrastructure has seen him driving "beautiful" new Matangis, a far cry from the English Electric "Rattlers" he started on.

Tranz Metro gave Mr Isted the day off on Monday and marked his 50th anniversary with a service for him and colleagues in Wellington. He was presented with a certificate, a mounted miniature locomotive and a reverser from one of the old Rattlers.

His work colleagues from Paekakariki gave him a photo of the Paekakariki yards from the early 1960s - where he was based a year after starting the job. It showed part of the single man's camp where he lived for a while.

He later transferred to Wellington but has been based in Paekakariki for about 30 years, where there is now about 40 staff.

Having served almost his entire service in the Wellington region, he had clocked up the most time in the region of any of the present employees, though there were two colleagues who had been with the railways longer, he said.

"I've only ever had two jobs . . . When I turned 15 I went race riding."

Being a jockey did not pay so well at the time, he said, and his father, who worked on the railway in Otaki, helped him get a job at the mechanical yard in Palmerston North.

He joined as a locomotive trainee, then got his boiler's ticket for the steam engines, before graduating to fireman. He did that for about 14 years in Wellington, "sitting on the left hand side" and calling out the signals for the driver, before getting his second grade driver's ticket in 1977.

About three years later he upskilled to a first grade and electric ticket, about the time the Ganz Mavag's came into service, he said.

There had been many changes of train over the years but the Matangi took the cake, he said.

"I love driving these new ones . . . they're absolutely brilliant to drive."

He said they were faster, smoother and quieter, had a great dynamic braking system and lots of technology at the driver's fingertips.

Aside from the upgraded trains and infrastructure, he said the biggest changes in the job had been upgrades to health and safety measures.

Mr Isted carries the dubious honour of having one of the most bizarre crashes, a collision with another train driven by his son.

Mr Isted was driving past Whenua Tapu near Pukerua Bay in September 2010 when a slip let loose in the middle of the curve. The train manager called out to him and he slammed the brakes on, "and the next thing there was a headlight coming around the curve and it was my son in the other one".

His son's train hit the slip and derailed into the path of his train.

Mr Isted said he told the train manager to tell passengers to brace and then got out of the cab, avoiding injury.

"I knew we were going to have a serious crash and I knew that if I didn't get out of there, I wouldn't have survived, and as it transpired, all the metal from Rob's cab went straight through the front window of my cab."

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After doing his duties he ran down to the other train to check on his son.

"It was just a huge rush of relief when we saw one another," he said.

"It was quite a traumatic day, something I'd never want to be involved in, but out of it all we all survived and there was a lot of lessons learnt out of that as well . . . like portable radios."

His son, Robert, had only been driving eight months when the crash happened but it did not put him off, he said.

"I've seen a lot of things, we've gone from government rail, to state-owned enterprise to private enterprise. . ."

But the best part of the job was the people he had met and been involved with, he said.

Now 68, he planned to work another year at least before retiring.

- Kapiti Observer

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