Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society member David Heah, 21, realised a childhood dream recently when he became the organisation’s youngest-ever qualified steam locomotive driver.

David’s journey began as a child when, like many kids, he developed a strong interest in trains and the engineering technology that drives them.

"There was a fascination about these living, breathing machines, that just grew" said David.

"This led me to reading books and later becoming involved in their preservation, operation and maintenance through Pichi Richi Railway."

His passion for all things mechanical led David to study both mechanical engineering and petroleum engineering at the University of Adelaide, where he has been supported by the Santos Scholarship.

Alongside his studies, David has also taken over the role of managing the PRRPS Locomotive Department, ensuring that routine maintenance, overhauls and paperwork requirements are all met.

"Although the behind scenes work isn’t as glamorous as driving a passenger train through the Pichi Richi Pass, it’s just as rewarding", said David. "To know that these wonderful mechanical machines can still turn a wheel under their own steam is why I and all the other volunteers keep coming to Quorn."

David Heah, centre, poses with PRRPS Locomotive Inspector Bryan Homann (left) and Fireman John Smythe (right) after successfully completing his final steam locomotive driving assessment. (Photo: Hayden Hart)

Pichi Richi Railway Preservation Society President Dion Chandler was thrilled when David completed his qualification. "It’s really heartening to know that the vision of our foundation members 40 years ago still lives on, and through people like David, will continue to live on for many years to come", said Mr Chandler. "For David to achieve this incredible milestone at the age of 21 is just fantastic. It shows that the dream of driving a steam train is a real opportunity that can be realised through the Pichi Richi Railway."

The organisation provides structured training for people from all walks of life, regardless of age. From carriage attendants and catering, through to working on the track replacing old sleepers and skilled mechanical work, there are opportunities for all.

Winter is the ideal time to experience the magic of the steam railway as it winds its way through some of the Southern Flinders Ranges’ most beautiful vistas. During the July and October school holidays, the Pichi Richi Railway’s dedicated volunteers will be running extra steam trains with services five days each week. "You may even spot me in the driver’s cab," said David.