Steam & Railway Image Library - The Alan Ledger Collection

About Alan

Alan's pictured on on the famous Flying Scotsman, where he worked this trip as a fireman.

Alan Ledger

meet the photographer

Alan Ledger is a lifetime steam train enthusiast, photographer & now a retired Train Driver.

After starting work as an apprentice fireman on the railways at age 15, he worked as a train driver right up until his retirement in 2010. In his lifelong career in the railway industry, he personally witnessed the end of stream rail in Britain and captured his unique perspective on these events through his photography collection.

His passion for all things steam, first ignited in his childhood and teenage years, has continued throughout his life, along with a passion for photography. The thrill of capturing that perfect shot, has sent him traveling throughout the world and throughout Britain to this day, taking pictures of engines. With his camera bag slung over his shoulder and his trusty step-ladder under his arm, Alan is known to go to great lengths to find the perfect position to get the right shot, often getting himself into some precarious positions in the pursuits of the perfect shot of a passing steam engine!

Alan is also an accomplished mountain climber, spending many years in reaching some of the tallest and most inaccessible summits in Scotland and the Scottish Isles. In 2012, he became one of the a select club of climbers to complete all 282 Munro’s in Scotland (his name is listed in the official Munro compleators).

In 2020, after suffering a cardiac arrest and spinal stroke, Alan became a paraplegic and thus a wheelchair user. Despite all his ongoing health and mobility challenges, he works hard to remains an active train photographer, still making trips to see and photograph steam engines whenever he can.

Alan's biography

“Trains have always been a significant part of my life and a passion that has been in my blood for as long as I can remember.

My dad’s parents lived at Sonning beside the railway, so close to the railway in fact you could hear and feel the vibration of every passing train. For as long as I can remember I spent at least two weeks of my school holidays sitting at the cutting side watching the steam hauled trains pass by, taking the numbers as we did back then.

I remember taking packed lunch’s my grandmother made for me and standing on a platform next to the track, sidelight down in the cutting by the A4 road bridge. Long happy days seeing many of the legendary named and unnamed Great Western engines and the Britannia’s from Cardiff Canton. I knew then at the age of 5 or 6 that I wanted to be a train driver.

This dream did come to fruition and as an adult I was able to drive trains through the cutting at Sonning, en-route from Birmingham to London Paddington and Brighton, which never fails to bring back happy childhood memories that little boy train spotting. 

I never wavered in my desire to be a train driver, much to the disappointment of my career officer who did all he could to dissuade me, citing poor pay and dirty work… all of which proved to be true of course!

So, age 15 years and 1 Month, I started my working life as a steam engine cleaner at Saltley, Birmingham. I would become very fortunate to be part of the Saltley depot in terms of the rich experiences, the variety of work and many of the colourful characters, all very different but united in their love of our place of work.

To qualify as driver in those days you had to be twenty three years of age before becoming fully competent. So for the next 8 years, I was cleaning and firing steam engines before their sudden demise at Saltley in 1967. Not surprisingly, I became very well acquainted with steam engines and it seemed a natural progression to want to capture them on film, hence my developing interest in photography during these years.

Unfortunately, steam traction finished all too quickly, and August 1968 saw the last working steam on the main lines of Britain. In order to pursue my interest in steam and photography now meant travelling abroad.

Fortunately I wasn’t alone in my passion to see steam engines at work, so were several colleagues at work. So when Alan Tregenna, Dave Wright and Bob Pitman organised, just two months later, our first venture to Calais and Boulogne in France to see the last G and K class compound Pacific’s at work, only months away from their retirement. When we embarked off the ferry at Calais we came across the Paris bound ‘Golden Arrow’ train and this was what we had come to see, with 231K16 at its head.

I can remember vividly the excitement of being there, and then it was all aboard to Boulogne. Our trip only lasted two days but in that period I took 30 or so pictures, in black and white with my dads old German 120 camera. That camera lasted for another year before giving up the ghost and was replaced with a new Praktica 35 mm model.

So started many years photographing all over Europe with visits to South Africa and China, building my collection of photographs which spans all those years up until today.”