Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Wednesday Winchcombe update

A well filled gang today split into three parts:

- A small crew went to Laverton to tamp out some uneven parts, using the Jacker-Packer and sighting boards (with some success)
- A second crew loaded the two flat wagons in the yard with point timbers, more new sleepers, and 8 rails (which will allow the double track to be extended as the point is moved further south).
- A third crew took the Permaquip trolley ino the cutting, in order to part dismantle the turnout and lay more sleepers.

First, Laverton. A spy (known to some of our wartime re-enactors as a German one) observed the Jacker-Packer and sent 3 secret photographs:

The Jacker-Packer at work, with evidence of lifts in the foreground. Martin is our 'driver' of this strange little vehicle.

Much patience is required, watching the Jacker-Packer.

We can handle that.

The skill is knowing when to spring into action - Now !

Andy has brought up the Landie with the sighting equipment, and is here directing Martin on the lifts to make.

Later, the tamper will pass here and give the levels a final adjustment. Using the Jacker Packer saves the tamper a lot of time, as it can only do small lifts.

In the yard at Winchcombe, the second crew walks up to load the wagons with materials for the relay, while the third has extracted the necessary tools from the various vans to go and part dismantle the turnout. The yard shunter is ready to push the short train up to the bracket signal in the cutting.

Instructions were to carefully label the rails removed from the turnout, so that we would know more easily from whence they had come.

This simple task proved more difficult than it sounds, as the spray can (for marking the ground) did not like being used horizontaly.

Eventually we did this with the rail, once removed, lying on its side. Another lesson learned.

The first rail was unclipped, and turned out of its chairs fairly easily.

Hats off to the gang !

But pride comes before a fall...

The gang then set about unseating the partner rail on the other side.

Stand in a row, insert crowbars, lift, and - nothing. What the...?

After some headscratching it dawned on us that of course there is only one way you can unseat a rail, and it wasn't the one in the previous picture.

All change !

After attacking the same rail from the other side, it rolled out easily enough.

In the background is the break between the job this year, and the relay done last winter (change of colour in the ballast)

With both rails crowbarred to the side, Rick set about removing the screws from the chairs. John M and Robert gave him some 'helpful' advice.

Late morning we had completed the job. The purpose was to remove those rails from the turnout that led to platform 1.
On reviewing the scene when all the rails had been thrown out, there was a sweaty moment, just in case we had removed the wrong ones (the line through platform 2 still being in use for delivery of materials). But we hadn't, phew! All was well. The chairs on the timbers were left in place.

We returned to the yard to 'help' ( the gang load up the flats with sleepers, timbers and rails. The completion of the loading coincided with lunchtime, brilliant!

Back in the mess coach, the atmosphere was steaming, and climbing up th ladder there was a sudden, mouthwatering aroma.

The kitchen was humming with activity. Today was an Italian day, and we found Martin and Paul wrestling with a huge pot of spaghetti, which was being heaped onto some 20 plates or so.

The result at your table: Meatballs in tomato sauce, on a bed of spaghetti, with a side order of hot garlic bread! A veritable gourmet lunch at Winchcombe, who knew?

The price for this largesse was heavy labour after lunch.

Here the dismantling gang is seen on top of a pile of rotten sleepers, trying to prise off some throughbolt chairs. As the nuts used for these are invariably seized after time, the only way to get the chairs off is to hack the rotten wood to pieces.

Peter on the Telehandler continued to load new sleepers, with chairs already fitted, and after lunch, finally, the train was moved off and up the line to the short stub of track left in situ at the bracket signal.

Here is the loaded train pushed up to the end of the stub. In the background, Steve can be seen levelling the trackbed cleared of sleepers by the Saturday gang, and behind that is the replacement track laid so far. We are on schedule.

Before the light began to fail, we managed to get in about a dozen of the new sleepers, not quite enough to lay in a new pair of rails. That's something for the Saturday gang, who will also be unloading the supply train. We hope to start digging out the spent ballast around the turnout next week.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

The ballast regulator has arrived

It was delivered yesterday, and is now waiting arrival of the replacement spines so that these can be fitted to the brushes.

The unit is a Matisa R7 Ballast Regulator, numbered 6224 and owned by B&R Track Services. It was probably built in the early 1970s.
It has ploughs at the front and sides (for the shoulders, retracted), and a box containing brushes at the rear.

The Matisa R7 was a development of the pioneering R6 model and was launched in 1966. It was built for several years until the design was reviewed again in 1980, when a hopper was added, giving the third generation R780 model the ability to pick up ballast and carry it around.

This is the box at the rear which contains the brushes. There is a central drum on which rubber spines are fixed, which, when rotated, fling the excess ballast backwards on to a small conveyor belt, which can spit it out to the left or right through the yellow door in the picture. It's the rubber spines which are life expired, and which we will replace in the next few days as soon as the spares are delivered.

At Little Buckland, you can see how excess ballast (in this area) covers the bottom flange of the rails, so that you cannot lift them for stressing. The tamper still has to cover this stretch of track, which will lift it further clear of the rails, but the tops of the sleepers must be clean for the stressing excercise.

The refurbished gearbox has now also been received, and is about to be refitted to the B&R tamper, so that we will be ready soon to return to the extension track.

At Toddington, 3 intermediate purlins for the Broadway canopy have been rivetted and now given a first protective coat of paint.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Relay progress

We are doing well at Winchcombe, after another day of great progress.

Working in tandem with the Wednesday gang, we set out to continue the relay from where they left off, and this is the opening shot of the day. There was rather more tool dragging up the line than on Wednesday, as the JCB was in the yard and had to travel all the way round by road and tunnel in order to arrive back on the trackbed.

The 16-odd volunteers split into several independent gangs and rattled away on different jobs, here taking off the fishplates on the next panel south.

Just because you have undone the bolts doesn't mean that the fishplates are going to come off. A bit of friendly persuasion from a crowbar is often necessary.

A second team cut the ends off the last rail laid, generating dust, sparks and smoke on this ice cold Saturday morning. Hayden brings up another barrowload of tools.

A third team was occupied drilling fish plate holes into every other joint. We will have 120ft panels here, with a welded joint in the middle. Less the bits we cut off, OK, OK.

A pantomime case of 'Look behind you' is building as a train threatens to burst out of the tunnel....

Actually, it's Steve arriving in the JCB, having accessed the trackbed at the other end. He was followed by Alan in the Telehandler, so we had two machines working with us today.

Did you know that the spot where the rail drill team is working was the scene of a grim accident in 1928?

The poignant thing about the accident is that a gang of 45 GWR platelayers were doing exactly the same thing as we are - resleepering the track between the tunnel and Winchcombe station. The only difference was that their line was live, while ours is closed for the winter.

As you may know, the 693yd Greet tunnel has a kink at the far end, so that you cannot see through it. On 29th March 1928 flagmen were stationed at both ends to warn of approaching trains. The gang stepped aside to allow a southbound freight train to pass, which duly rattled by and filled the tunnel with smoke and steam. Some of the men were working outside the tunnel, and some inide. Those working outside resumed work once the train had passed, but failed to notice that a 'rail-car' had now entered the tunnel from the Cheltenham end. (presumably what we call a steam rail motor today)

As the rail-car emerged unexpectedly from the tunnel, it struck 5 of the gangers. Three were killed, and two badly injured. They were taken to Cheltenham hospital by the 10.35 Wolverhampton to Penzance express, which was stopped before entering the tunnel.

It appears that the flagmen gave the signal correctly to 'stand clear' for both lines, but the smoke, noise and draught through the tunnel made it impossible for the platelayers to notice that a second train was about to pass, with awful consequences.

The gang downed tools for the rest of the day...

On Wednesday the team on the rail drill were handicapped by a lack of lubricant.

A big drum of it was provided for the team today, and rapid progress down to the railhead was therefore made.

John is thinking of other things....

With the arrival of the JCB and telehandler, Steve was able to drag down more rails from the tunnel mouth, while Alan slowly emptied the two trucks in the background of their new sleepers, carefully placing these at the railhead.

Once sufficient new sleepers were down, Steve was able to lift in rails.

The number of panels laid today was somewhere between 5 and 7, we rather lost sight of where we started, as it all looks the same.

You can see the progress as the laying team approach the old panels still in situ near the bracket signal.

Soon it was lunch time, and we enjoyed a very filling meal of sausage, thick cut chips and beans expertly cooked by Jim. The high point of the meal of course was the cake baked by Mrs. B, although today we were actually treated to a selection of cupcakes for a change. Alan is considering his options carefully, as the choice was tempting and wide rangeing. Coffee and walnut, plain with icing and sprinkles, and chocolate were those tested by, ahem, yours truly. Well, if you think 3 cupcakes is a lot, Steve L ate five! This isn't helping the Christmas tummy get any smaller.

After lunch, the next two panels were taken out, leaving just two more under the supply train. We need to keep these for a while yet, as there are more sleepers and point timbers to deliver, and further north the bracket signal gets in the way.

Nearer the tunnel mouth, the clipping up team was in action - yet another team - making slow but steady progress towards Winchcombe.

Although we have a good handle on the use of the Pan puller (here in the picture with Lee), getting the rail to sit properly in the chairs was very time consuming, as we kept having to lift various sleepers into position and packing them, before we could pull the next of the keys into its place.

That said, we got right up to the end of the track relaid so far, so we could sign that bit off. It looked nice and tight.

Steve L demonstrated the other way you can get Pan keys in - with brute force, insistence, a lot of experience, and a keying hammer. Hitting the rusty keys always releases its own little cloud of dust, as in the picture.

Steve L worked ahead of the main keying up team, and saved them a lot of the preparatory work.

After taking out the rail on the next two panels, we had, for a moment, two machines on removing sleepers. Here Steve is dropping a load on the now empty flat truck, while Alan is waiting patiently with the next 4 sleepers freshly dug up.

For a short while both machines were on the same job, and the two lengths were soon stripped down to the trackbed. Steve then started to level it in preparation for new sleepers. The supply on the bogie flat was taken off and parked by the trackside, so that the two wagons could be filled with life expired ones to be taken back to the yard for chair removal.

A slow revving engine overhead made us look up, to find a Tigermoth circling the station. The pilot sits in the open, and must have been freezing! We had just 4 degrees today, and the yard was covered in pools of ice.

At the end of the day, which is imperceptibly getting longer again, thank God, a discussion took place on the next few steps.

The relaid track has now entered the curve, but will not follow it strictly, but will drift over by 3ft towards the bracket signal. This is to meet up with the turnout on the extended platform 1 road, the turnout being moved two panels towards the tunnel.

The ballast in this area needs digging out and is also life expired, so will be shuttled southwards by dumper to the other end of the tunnel, where it will be re-used to make a new access road.

As we packed up our tools, the JCB and telehandler rumbled off in convoy towards the tunnel, to leave the track by the other end and return to Winchcombe yard.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Second week at Winchcombe

Great progress is being made here by the Wednesday and Saturday gangs, and at the time of writing we are ahead of schedule. However.... this supposes the weather is kind throughout, which will be history by Thursday. Snow is forecast. We shall see, but so far, so very good.

The initial briefing from Dave in the mess coach first thing was followed by a second one from Clive...
 ...who advised us of successful negotiations to rent a ballast regulator for use on the extension. This had been high on our wish list for months, but was an elusive capture until today.

This piece of kit is important to us as we need to clear the rails of ballast dropped there by Dogfish from Laverton bridge, to Peasebrook Farm (currently) and later all the way to Broadway. The rail needs to be put on rollers for the CWR stretching process, and we did not relish the idea of cleaning a mile or more of track by hand.

The ballast regulator is an older model, like this one, seen here on the K&ESR's Bodiam extension in 1999. It can plough the excess ballast (in front, on the photograph) and clean with rotating brushes (behind).

The brushes are currently life expired and as part of the deal we have offered to refit the new ones. The regulator will arrive next week.
The working day started with a crew of 16, and sorting out the tools required for the job today. These were all heaved on two trolleys, which were then pushed up the yard, where they promptly derailed on the muddy crossing *!$###** and we ended up throwing the whole kit and kaboodle onto two different trolleys, with bigger wheels.

Arriving on site, we were pleased to see two heavily stacked flats with more sleepers. Unfortunately our plans to lay some of these were stymied by the Telehandler being used for a training excercise today, so this will be something for the Saturday gang.

All the kit was manhandled once again, this time into the bucket of the JCB, and, near the tunnel mouth, it was manhandled some more and dumped in the cess. This all before work started!

We're in luck in a way, as the work site is relatively close to where we keep the tools. More often than not, all the kit has to go in the Landie and be driven for a number of miles first.

Here is the JCB reversing up the track to the tunnel mouth, where the job will start today.

Our starting position was a cleared trackbed up to panel 6, and a fine row of new sleepers just waiting for the bullhead rail to be placed back into their chairs.

The sun was tricky for us, low and strong and blinding if trying to communicate with the JCB driver.

Here you can see the sleepers that awaited us, with some of the life expired examples piled up on the cutting side.

During the morning we laid 4 rails into two panels, and two teams set about inserting the Pan keys to fix the rail into the chairs. This proved to be quite a challenge, as we were used to the circular Mills type keys, which are somwhat easier to insert, but have the habit of working their way out again over time.
A special Pan Puller bar exists, and indeed we had two examples of them. After some experimentation, a hybrid system of Pan Puller and whacks with a keying hammer resulted in acceptable progress down the line.

At 12.25 there was a sudden awareness that you were working alone.... an exodus towards the mess coach was taking place, for a 12.30 rendez-vous with an excellent Chef Paul, who luckily has not yet been discovered by the media.

On the menu today: Faggots, peas, potatoes and thick gravy, each table being issued with its own jug of it. Maitre Paul came out of the kitchen (top right) to make sure that all was well; later he came out in the guise of Mrs. Overall to collect the plates on a trolley. You couldn't ask for better service, and all that for the princely sum of £2.50p. We shall return.

After lunch, enthusiasm for hard labour was somewhat subdued, and some spent a few moments recovering by supervising proceedings, holding up some bars and reflecting on the nature of next week's potential menu.

Behind them Steve had ventured into the tunnel to recover another pair of rails.

These are numbered, so that we know exactly which ones go back where.

Dave held the Masterplan, and Peter's expression suggests that he may have been holding it upside down.

Was the running line on the up or the downside again?

Once a pair of rails was in, the northern ends had to be cut off (the southern ends were cut off on dismantling) and this was the opportunity for the youngest member of the gang to show his skills, while the older ones looked on. It was always so.

An interesting issue that came up was the discovery of a buried catchpit in the six foot (centre of the line) and this exposed the fact that the upside running line was not quite on its original bed.

The reason for this is that on demolition the ballast in the tunnel was removed, thus forcing the new track nearer the middle unless a lot of money was spent on replacing the ballast (not available when this track was laid, many years ago.)

Inside the tunnel, Steve collects another pair of rails.

All in all, we laid 6 panels today. This is quite a pleasing result (6 out of 17) but the hardest bit is yet to come. This is the repositionning of the turnout, in a curve. And before that, there are 6 panels to take out and replace.

With the sun disappearing over the edge of the cutting, we placed a final pair of rails on our sixth panel for the day. Then it was: load all the gear up again, ferry it down to the trolleys, load the trolleys, roll them across Winchcombe station and into the yard, and throw (heave) them back into the various vans.

It's dark now, so time to go home and light the fire! Another very satisfactory day.

Trackbed walks

On a different tack, viewers may already know the Flickr site which shows, inter alia, trackbed walks along the old Honeybourne line where track has not (yet) been relaid:

Yesterday the last of these walks was added: Broadway to Willersey: