Real Life

Weekly people: “I’m 17 and drive a train”

Whakatane local Ashlie McIlroy-Brown took getting a driver’s licence to a whole new level.

“When I turned 16 last year, I received the best birthday present ever – my licence to drive miniature trains. I was introduced to this world two years ago when a friend invited me to the miniature train station in my home town of Whakatane.

He wanted me to look around to see if I liked it. I immediately fell in love with the world of little trains and found myself an exciting new hobby.

I’m one of the only teenaged girls in New Zealand holding a steam ticket to drive coal-fired railway locomotives. The trains I drive are working-scale replicas of real trains and come in many varieties, including electric, petrol, steam and diesel. I mostly drive steam trains.

The train-driving teen hopes her tiny passion will put her on the right track towards becoming a naval engineer.

The rides are popular with children and also the elderly who travelled on the original trains during their youth – the miniatures provide them with some nostalgia. Also, when little girls see that their train driver is a girl, they get really excited. That’s a thrill!

I mostly drive the trains at the weekend and on public holidays, so my passion doesn’t interfere with school work or my social life. When I do drive the train, I start early in the morning and take the kids – and sometimes the adults – around the track. You have to have a licence to do this, even though it’s not a public working track.

I have to admit I was more excited about studying for my train licence than my car licence. I had to take a theory test and learn about safety and what to do if anything goes wrong. Then I did a practical test, just like you do with a restricted car licence.

You’re on the train with the examiner behind you, watching your every move. I passed on my 16th birthday!

My closest friends have supported this passion, but I’ve had the odd teenager tease me, saying that it’s funny or weird that I love to drive little trains. But I don’t let the negative feedback bring me down. I’m doing something most girls my age don’t, and I think that’s cool.

Normally it’s the older generation who take up this sort of hobby, and I love being different. Aside from train-driving, I’m also a sergeant in the local Air Training Corps squadron. I relish being part of this organisation, where we’re taught skills useful in a military environment – such as flying planes, navigation and leadership. I hope to join the navy next year, so I see this as a good grounding.

‘I’m doing something most girls my age don’t – and I think that’s cool’

I want to be an engineer – it was the train driving that opened my eyes to this possible career path. I’m also involved in building my own miniature train, which shows me how much hard work and effort is involved with creating machines.

I enjoy living in Whakatane. It may be a small town, but it’s a beautiful and lively place with amazing beaches. I will definitely miss it when I leave.

My parents are based here, so I will visit often. They have been very supportive of my hobbies and are glad I have extra-curricular activities that keep me very busy. I belong to the local rock ‘n’ roll dance club too, which allows me to express my creative side.

My family loves the fact that I’m pushing myself to try a whole range of experiences. More teenagers, especially girls, should get out there and try different things.”

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