Swanage Railway steam event makes for the perfect coupling

The romance of the railways inspired a Swanage Railway steam enthusiast to come up with the perfect way to propose to his girlfriend. 

Nathan Au, who’s been volunteering with the Swanage Railway for 12 years, decided to use the backdrop of last Bank Holiday weekend’s Roads to Rail event – featuring traction engines and steam engines – to pop the question to his girlfriend of five years, Rhianna Webb.


He said:

“It seemed like the perfect opportunity.”

Engagement by the railway
Vicki Dyke

Nathan gets down on one knee

“She looked up and saw the sign”

With the help of his railway buddies, he lured Rhianna down to Norden Station near Corfe Castle in Dorset, on the pretext of helping out with the event, and she was there on the platform when he drove the train into the station.

Friend, and operations manager with the railway, Ashley Haines fixed a headboard with the words ‘Will you marry me?’ onto the engine while she wasn’t looking, and when Nathan invited her round to the front, he was able to let the sign do the talking.

He explained:

“She looked up and saw the sign and when she turned back I was down on one knee to propose to her.”

Engagement by the railway
Vicki Dyke

Rhianna says ‘yes’

Blew the whistle

Nathan presented Rhianna with a ruby cluster engagement ring and friend Ashley blew the train whistle as, on cue, all the traction engines and steam engines at the event joined in blowing their whistles too.

Nathan said:

“It was quite a racket and definitely made the occasion very public and very unique.”

Happily, Rhianna accepted his proposal. ‘I had some confidence,’ Nathan admitted. The couple who share a home in Corfe Mullen have been together for five years. 

The happy couple
Vicki Dyke

The happy coupling

“Completely taken by surprise”

Rhianna said:

“It was spectacular. I was completely taken by surprise. I really had no idea. I was tricked into coming down under the guise that the festival needed some help. 

“It hasn’t really sunk in yet.

“It was so unlike Nathan really. He’s usually a very private person. I didn’t expect any proposal to be a big event. I mean, it was very me, and so I think he was doing something that I would enjoy.”

Engagement ring
Nathan Au

The ring

“Special part of his life”

Nathan works for the railways in his day job, as a rolling stock engineer for Siemens, and Rhianna is a quality assurance advisor for a life insurance company.

Rhianna continued:

“Swanage has been such a special part of his life for many years and his friends are my friends now and it’s been a part of our relationship for the five years we’ve been together. The first train he ever took me out on was the one that he was driving on Monday, so it made it a very special occasion.”

Train at Harmans Cross
Nathan Au

The train was the same one Nathan first took Rhianna out on

“Railways are a romantic concept”

The train was U Class 31806. Nathan has been a train driver for three years after serving his apprenticeship as a fireman. Rhianna admits his love of railways wasn’t something she immediately shared.

She said:

“It was certainly something that had to grow on me. When we first started going out he just said he was a volunteer: he didn’t say it was on the steam railway, but then it slowly came out.

“But actually, I think the railways are a romantic concept and obviously as I have a railway enthusiast as a boyfriend and we tend to visit railways when we go away, I now see them in a rather romantic way.”

Watch the marriage proposal

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