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Minister for skills and enterprise Matthew Hancock visits apprentices at East Kent Railway, Shepherdswell,

By Beth Robson

Minister for Skills and Enterprise Matthew Hancock caught a glimpse of how apprentices are not only replenishing the construction sector, but they are repairing and rejuvenating the tracks at a historical railway.

East Kent Railway Trust at Shepherdswell hosted the minister, showcasing the progress the charity has made in recent years. The visit also allowed him to see first hand how apprentices are helping move the railway forward while they learn their trade.

Rail apprentices Luke Tiernan, 18, and Kyle Parker, 18, are three months into their year-long apprenticeship with Arc Academy based at East Kent Railway in Shepherdswell

Mr Hancock told the Mercury:“It’s an impressive organisation to take young people from the local area and give them what it takes to get he jobs that are increasingly available with more investment in rail, like the HS2. So we need more railway engineers from technician level, all the way through.

East Kent Railway is the former railway line that transported coal from three of Kent’s colleries when the Kent Coalfield was thriving.

Now it is run as a heritage line and organisers like Gary Cox want to expand the line, firstly into Tilmanstone, but eventually to the site of the former Betteshanger Colliery, which is undergoing a £40million education, agriculture and heritage redevelopment with Hadlow College.

The railway trust depends on volunteers, grants and donations. So far the project has received no Government cash, although Arc Academy does get some to fund the apprentices.

During his flying visit to the railway, Mr Hancock watched as the apprentices, who are three months into the year-long course, learned theory in the classroom.

For the full story, including pictures and interviews with apprentices and their teacher, see the Mercury on Thursday.

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