THE first burning question is what exactly is a bloke from North Yorkshire doing working for one of the world's most unique and scenic heritage railways.

"Not a bad office window is it," says Mike Ellis surveying the jagged lines of the snow-capped Bernese Alps rising up from the turquoise hue of Lake Brienz.

Project to bring historic Swiss loco home is no longer crazy idea

We are at the first halt on the one in four climb of the Brienz Rothorn Bahn (BRB) on its breathtaking 4.7 miles journey to its terminus at 7,362ft above sea level. It is Switzerland's fourth highest railway and this, being Switzerland, is no mean feat!

Mike, who hails from Thirsk, is passionate about this rack and pinion railway, which opened to the public in 1892.

For it has also proved somewhat of a saviour, helping him through some dark times.

The 54-year-old, whose main job is IT project manager with Swisscom, became involved with BRB shortly after buying shares in the small company.

At its 2011 AGM, they asked if someone could conduct workshop tours in English. "That's how I started. I now handle the UK marketing and undertake the locomotive footplate trips for our UK guests. It's paradise!"

He devotes many a weekend, day off and evening to the railway - which has three generations of unique steam locos, famously angled to keep the water in the boiler level on the steep gradients.

It's no surprise Mike is drawn to the BRB. He's always had a deep-seated love of steam railways and on leaving school in Thirsk aged 16 began a three year British Rail apprenticeship.

In 1981, he joined its Eastern Region Telecoms Drawing Office in York - at a time when BR operated the country's second largest telephone network.

"My dad worked for the railways. At 15-years-old, I had no idea what to do with my life so he suggested the apprenticeship."

He later moved to London and the East Anglian Region's telecoms section, becoming involved in major signalling and electrification projects.

Meanwhile, life took an abrupt turn after he met one of his sister's Durham University friends who was Swiss. They married and in 1989 moved to Switzerland where they had three children.

Initially, Mike worked for a US chemical company before switching to Credit Suisse, then Swisscom. But in 2011 life hit rock bottom when he suffered a "classic burn out".

Rising stress caused by a "mega project" and a collapsing marriage saw him end up in hospital and a six week spell in a rehabilitation clinic.

He recalls how the BRB provided a safe refuge. "When I was trying to get back on my feet, they were very good to me. They gave me manual tasks to do in the workshops which meant I could switch off. It gave me important therapy."

As well as the workshop tours, he hosts various visiting groups - from parties of British journalists to Japanese railway buffs.

"It's the interaction with people who are interested and want to listen. When I'm stood on the footplate of a loco, its hot and smelly. It's brilliant. It's a unique railway, unique in its locos, in its design, in its mechanical heritage."

He is enthusiastic that the tourist railway attracts mainly Swiss families - who return down the generations. "It's is a Swiss tourist environment, not a Disneyland," he adds.

He is also proud to have been heavily involved in two major projects.

The first was overhauling a badly corroded boiler on one of the locos, some of which date back to the 1890's, when there was no longer anyone on mainland Europe still capable of carrying out the work.

So Mike turned to the UK, with its many heritage railways, and finally agreed a deal with London & North Western Railway Heritage Company in Crewe.

He is also spearheading a major project which will see a BRB steam loco transported from Switzerland to the Snowdon Mountain Railway to help mark the BRB's 125th anniversary and promote Switzerland.

His life too is now moving forward. Two years after his divorce, he married Helena and is now surrounded by three dogs and a dozen Aylesbury ducks in the "ruin" of their 300-year-old Emmental farmhouse which is undergoing restoration.

And if that's not enough, he's also building a traction engine at one third scale.

He still sees parents John and Angela Ellis, who live in Thirsk, several times a year. His dad also volunteers twice a week as a crossing keeper on the Wensleydale Railway.

"As a 16-year-old leaving school with just 'O' levels I never, ever thought I would be living and working in Switzerland for the last 30 years," adds Mike.

"I have never been so happy in my life. Work isn't stress, stress is stress. I can look back at my breakdown and see it was one of the best things to happen. It was clear various things in my life were not balanced.

"There are many, many people reading this who aren't that lucky. I can hope they one day get the chance and will to change their circumstances."