Saturday, 22 July 2017

More rail at Broadway north

Back to track laying! We continued today with laying the headshunt of the main line at Broadway, until we reached the home signal post, the trigger for a change and the start of the first turnout.

First things first, it appears we now have a bit of an 'arms race' in the doughnut supply. Anything Hayles / The Wednesday Gang can do, we can do better. No fewer than 46 doughnuts turned up today, including 36 on 3 trays sourced by Paul C. Take your pick. Take several. Please !

Then off to Broadway to continue laying track. We had 3 more panels to do to get us to the home signal. That is the point at which the turnout starts.

Now..... let's see which way round this goes. It turns out that these things are drawn once, but can be used in mirror image, so do we want that, or the one on the drawing?

With the head scratching going on at the business end, some of us decided to roll out the fish plates for the siding, which will be laid alongside. Pairs were dropped off the trolley next to the fish plates on the main line already laid.

We had the test case earlier of two Pandrol clips inserted in the same direction (by accident). Here is a case of where this was done on purpose. The blue one is the reverse one, and it was put here due to the proximity of the fish plate, which means that a clip could not be inserted from the top of the picture. The reverse clips are all painted blue, but what happens, see, is that the paint slowly comes off until you get an old one with no paint left on it at all, and then you are puzzled because it won't fit normally. But this one here is brand new.

Steve has now joined us in the JCB, and off we go laying in sleepers again. Here is the first set of 4 of the day, paused on the ground while Steve repositions the machine.

Laying sleepers must be easy, you'll be thinking, but there are lots of little foibles and hurdles. It's knowing about these and anticipating them that makes a team function well.

Here we have detected a blocked up hoop on the chair. With these second hand sleepers many have been knocked into the ground and have muck and stones in the hoops. Here Tom is poking a rod through one of them to clear it.

Another issue that cropped up today was the famous 'bow wave'. If you push stuff along the trackbed (and we do this a lot) then a wall of stones builds up in front. This then stops you from laying sleepers evenly, or even risks breaking their backs if a train passes over them. Steve here removes one of these 'bow waves'. Problem solved again, no need to panic.

Mid morning we had laid the last available sleepers on site, about 80 of them. We were a few short, so Steve was dispatched to Childswickham, where a handful were known to remain. Just right. That brought us up to the foot of the home signal. Nigel gave Steve the slinging directions:
'Malverns side a touch'.
'Malverns side'
Sigh. 'Round of Grass*, Stevie...'

(* Well known pub in nearby Badsey, in the Malverns direction.)

Here we are, arrived at the home signal. From here the track divides into two, with the loop (platform 2) line to branch off to the right. In the background some of the Broadway gang watch what we are doing, we're quite close now.

With the sleepers we had nearby all laid out, we decided to lift in the rails that go with them. With this signal next to the rail head, you can get a good view from above over the goings on below.

Using the wide angle, it looks like we have laid absolutely loads of sleepers (just 80 though, enough for 3 panels).

These now stretch all the way from the buffer stop by the far boundary to the foot of the signal.

Bert went up to the stock of rails, ex Laverton Loop, to attach two more to the JCB, which dragged them out of the pile and down to the empty sleepers.

Six rails were then lifted in, to take the track almost up to the signal. A last pair of shorter rails was sourced from the Childswickham pile, and dropped in as well, so that we had now laid 3 1/2 panels to reach just beyond the signal.

At lunch time the Landie arrived from another urgent fishplate replacement mission near the tunnel. One of our track walkers had spotted the issue, and it was dealt with immediately.
The Landie returned to Broadway, bringing with it some ominous clouds. The forecast backed this up, as 'heavy showers' were forecast. Oh-oh.

Soon the heavens did indeed open, so that those who were working just 5 minutes ago in short sleeves suddenly found they needed to dress up for a winter downpour. It was that sort of weather today. Luckily it didn't last too long, then we called a halt for lunch.

Vital supplies had been pre-positioned, and not only for the turnout.

OK, so that's just the one, but what about those others in the boxes under your arm?
The doughnut level, 46 high at the start of the day, was now falling rapidly.  Then our gaze was diverted by Mrs. B's even better home made cakes. At the end of lunch there were still a dozen left, so we decided on a friendly gesture and offered them to the Broadway team.

After lunch we started a new chapter, by setting out the northern loop turnout.

The bits for it are in the top RH corner of the picture. We've thought about this, so all the pieces have been stored nearby, after being brought up from Laverton.

As Steve busied himself with the pile of timbers for the turnout, and expectant team remained at the rail head, waiting for him to return with the first timbers. These had all been numbered while in situ still at Laverton. We also had photographs, thanks to the wonder of the mobile phone, which could now be consulted.

After a handful of plain timbers, two extra long ones were positioned. These will support the mechanism for operating the end of the switch blade here. You can see the orange patches (places where the base plates used to be) are off to one side, with a plain bit of timber to the right.

Bit by bit Steve brought more timbers down, in numerical order (well, almost).

Here you can see the base plates starting to show traces of two rails, rather than one.

A study of Chris and Phil, lifting one end of the increasingly heavy point timbers. From their faces, this one doesn't look too heavy. However....

... things soon got heavier. No one minds doing a bit of hard work, but after placing quite a few of these, we realised that they had to face the other way. This meant that each one had to be picked up again from ground level, and walked round in a 180 degree semi circle, while climbing over the other timbers. That was hard, as Chris' expression now shows.

After we had laid 25 of the timbers, we received the 'benefit' of another downpour. We were about to lay in the first of the switch blades, but the volume of water that came down was too much, and we decided to call it a day. The Landie took us back to the lower car park, which had now been transformed into a quagmire by the rainwater run off from the main road. This would need addressing, perhaps with a drain across the entrance? Our cars acquired huge sticky jackets of clay around the wheels, and the simple act of driving the few yards to the main road resulted in wheelspin and a bit of to-ing and fro-ing just to get out.

A small number of us will be back on Monday to 'tweak' the track into something resembling a straight line. We now also need to install the second buffer stop - or stop block, as the professionals remind us - and this still needs sourcing from a choice of 3 we have, all with their own issues of accessibility.

As we were talking about lauying concrete sleepers by hand, a reader sent us a picture of sleeper nips shaped for concrete sleepers:

Fortunately we have not had to use these on our railway. These concretes, weighing in at 250Kg each, could be manoeuvered by 6 men on 3 of these nips. However, if 2 men on a pair of these hit a hollow or stumbled, then the full weight quickly came down on the remaining 4. We're very lucky to have mechanical assistance in the 1000s that we have laid so far.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017


The Wednesday gang was all over the place today, and we were quite numerous too, despite the holidays. Could it have been the cake last week? Sorry, no more now, more next year, unless someone else is 65.

A largeish gang assembled in the mess van at Toddington, but as we spread out over several sites today, it soon felt like a small one.

We like the mess van where it is, in the parlour road at Toddington. It's handy for parking and loading up, and you feel in the middle of things. Locos trundle by as you drink your tea and talk about the day's plans.

P&O was back in the unloading road, now facing the other way, and an unidentified green class 20 on the bit in the car park. Warming up for the diesel gala?

Gang 1 repaired to Winchcombe, four strong, to sort out more sleepers. We are using every spare concrete sleeper that we have, and a visit will shortly be made to Gotherington to have another look at our rejects pile. There should be some in there that could be useable in the Broadway north siding.

Gang 3 went to Broadway north, to work on the 8 lengths laid on Saturday, of which only 1 length was clipped up so far. 7 more to go then.

Gang 2 disembarked at Childswickham, after the Landie shuttle had been to the site safe at Broadway north to get the tools. We got lots of friendly waves from the Broadway gang as we drove through between the platforms.

These concrete sleepers are so heavy that, even with a bar and a fulcrum, you have to use all the weight you have to get them up to meet the rail to clip up. At least it gave Rob a bit of extra height, so that he could point out where we are going to with the track.

While clipping up the last two lengths at Childswickham - they were under the two bogie flats last week, so couldn't be done until the wagons were shunted into the distance - the Cotswolds team was actually ahead of the Malvern side one. Dave and Jonathan arrive at the end here, but we have to be truthful here and report that they started half way along.

At noon we were all done here, so we collected up the tools as well as this PWay trolley, which we took to the north end, to be away from any temptation by third parties to put it on the rails and roll it towards Toddington.
A peek over the edge shows that levelling in the car park has been completed. This area used to be 2ft deeper, and many years ago held allotments belonging to the railway staff members that lived in the 7 buildings at Broadway. It is said that they stopped growing vegetables here because passers by on the Private Road kept picking the stuff. We found numerous old bottles of water and beer here in the early days of Broadway, including a complete soda syphon. All liquids to keep the poor allotment holders refreshed during their gardening duties. The brands on the bottles were all local - Cheltenham Original Brewery, Brearley waters, Arden waters, even one from the Lamb brewery at Frome.

On our journey onwards to Broadway north to join gang 3, we saw signs of clearance along the fence line, where the running line will be located.

Behind is the original goods shed, which we sold to the Caravan Club to raise money for the Chicken Curve slip. It now looks well maintained, we must say, they are looking after it well.

At Broadway north, gang 3 had made great strides forward, with the whole stretch behind them already clipped up, and only 2 more panels to do.

Here's how far they got at lunch time - almost at the end, so that Saturday's gang can continue laying track.

After a hasty lunch in the open - it wasn't very 'al fresco', and was hot, sweaty and humid today - the Landie was in further demand. First to pick up all the bearers discarded at Broadway from the 212 sleepers laid, and then take them to Gotherington, for use there when we stack the sorted out rejects Monday week.

Then back to Winchcombe, where we found gang 1 frustrated by a severe puncture on the Telehandler. An expensive new tire needed, was the diagnosis.

Cash out, and no more work - a bad combination. Fortunately they had pretty much done at Winchcombe what they set out to do, but the planned trip to Gotherington was made impossible until the new tyre was mounted.

We then responded to a call for more Pandrol clips for Broadway, and loaded the Landie up with a pile of sacks.

On the way back along the B4632 we were stopped by this monster combine. It was so wide that it used up 1 1/2 carriageways, and its cutting blades at the front were so wide they had to be dismounted and pulled along lengthways by a special extra tractor. Our little corner of the Cotswolds resembled the grain basket of the Ukraine!

Back at Broadway north, the clipping up of the 7 panels was completed when we arrived. Doesn't it look neat? The little PWay trolley is the first rail vehicle on this new stretch of track. We unloaded all the sacks of Pandrols, and treated ourselves to...

... an ice cream! Richly deserved, we felt.

Mint and chocolate flavour - we recommend!

History corner

We received a fascinating email from John Barcy, former P.W. Supervisor with the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway. He attached two historical photographs of a relay with concrete sleepers at Newent, which we would like to share with you.

 This is what he says about them:

''I attach two pictures taken in the 1950's of the handling of concrete sleepers on the line through Newent. These devices were the product of Gloucester drawing office and were the 'latest' in mechanical handling! Several burly gangers were employed at one end to bear down and lift the sleeper, two more to swing it round and place it. Then the contraption was lifted bodilly forward for the next sleeper.''

We can see new, white coloured concrete sleepers with bullhead chairs in the foreground, and the wooden sleepered track being replaced in the background. One (!) concrete sleeper is being lifted by means of two metal loops supended from a central frame.

We can't see a JCB or a crane in this picture, because...

... there isn't one! The heavy sleepers were laid using this amazing counter balanced contraption, which seems to be made of three tubes mounted on a tripod. At the rear there are 5 people hauling down on the other end, with the people in the middle steering the contraption round so that the sleeper comes to rest in its allotted place. You can soon work out that you have to move the contraption along for each sleeper laid. Slow, but it works. John also mentions concrete sleeper nips that were available - we have never heard of these. A concrete sleepers weighs about a quarter of a ton.

If anyone else has any interesting old photographs that they would like to share, we would be happy to receive them via breva2011 (at) And thank you John, for these wonderful pictures.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Hello Broadway!

A big day today - we changed from laying track north, to laying track south, but still towards Broadway.
Today the whole gang started laying track at Broadway north, starting at the buffer stop Steve had brought up on Wednesday.

Between then and now, a supply of sleepers from the supply train at Childswickham was also ferried in. This is good, now all we have to do is lay them, no waiting.

The buffer stop brought up on Wednesday is at the back, on what will be the headshunt from the main running line.

Looking from Springfield Lane bridge, the supply of sleepers brought up is vast - there were over 200 of them, from a train loaded with 320.
The main line headshunt will be on the left, the siding on the right.

The first job was to position an extra chaired sleeper under the buffer stop, and then 'tweak' it with the JCB so that it is in the right place.

And then we started laying!  The first set of 4 concrete sleepers goes down.

These are second choice, fitted with non-standard Pan 9 chairs, which hang somewhat awkwardly in our jig. Perfect for the job here though.

The speed with which we got these down was amazing, all helped by the prior placing of the sleepers in the correct spaces. All we had to do was lift them in, and move on to the next pile. Brilliant!

Behind us, Alan was busy with the Telehandler and bringing up the rest of the sleepers still on the wagons at Childswickham. As we reduced the piles at one end, they grew again at the other.
Notice the fine signals placed recently, especially the one on the left, which has a route indicator on it. That was interesting...

A number of spectators ventured on to the bridge off Springfield Lane, and took pictures of our work. We used to be out in the middle of nowhere, but now that privacy is over.

Here's a closer shot of the sleeper type we are using. A number still had their Pandrol clips left in them, which now of course were rusted in. Dave has a good go at them with the keying hammer.

Laying the sleepers with the JCB today was a little confusing, as we had turned round and were now working the opposite way. Calls to swing the load towards 'Broadway' or 'Toddington' now had the opposite effect, which confused our poor JCB operator Steve, until we had the idea of calling out the pubs towards which he should swing. He knew where those were, instinctively. From now on, the instructions from the slinger are: New Inn (north, please), and Pheasant (south please), but 'Malvern' and 'Cotswolds' remain unchanged. They haven't moved.

Lunch time saw us with quite a considerable run of sleepers already down. Beware of the wide angle lens though, they don't stretch as far as they look. We put down 212 sleepers, a pretty good effort for just a morning's work, including going to Toddington first to load up the tools.

Lunch was in the open. It was dull weather, but pleasantly warm. Luckily we had now reached the stacks that were only two rows of sleepers high, so that they made perfect seats for us all. We were 12 good men and true today.

Here's an overview of the site, taken from the top of the signal post. This will mark the location of the first turnout, and you can see that we are approaching it fast.

After lunch - rails ! We stopped laying sleepers, and started to lay in some of the rail that was formerly at Laverton. This is the first rail to go in at Broadway north. There's now some rail at both extremities of the long Broadway station site, and soon the two ends will meet.

This is what sleepers laid 'in the raw' look like - all uneven, wriggling from left to right. You can't lay rail on this, so the next job was to line them all up. Nigel's experienced eye guides the 4 guys with bars to shift each sleeper Malvern side, or Cotswolds 'a touch'.

Look behind you ! This is what the alignment looks like after we had barred the sleepers - much better. It allows the rail laying gang to get on with their job.

Coming to the end of the day, it was time to go back up on the bridge and take a second shot. The buffer stop's in, 212 sleepers and 8 pairs of rails on top of them. At the end of the day we were about half way along the cutting towards the Broadway station platforms.
A second track is still due to be laid on the right.

Zooming in a bit, you can see where we stopped for the day.

There's a lot of clipping up to do on this stretch now, work for the Wednesday gang 'clippies'.

The last rail of the day goes in, No. 16. It gives us 8 panels laid, or 145 metres of new track.

As the rail we are now using is second hand, having been at Laverton Loop before, it is already drilled, so all we have to do is fishplate it up.

Dave does this with the nut runner, a very noisy machine. John in the background knows all about that.

One of the last photographs of the day shows the track we laid, with rails on. It still needs a bit of 'tweaking' (by Steve with the back acter) but this is best done when everything is fully clipped up, so that it all moves along when Steve gives it a little push. But he couldn't resist already having a little go today - the picture shows it already better than it was 5 mins earlier.

On the way back to our parked cars, we passed the signal with route indicator and paused to admire it. It all works with levers and wires, and as the signal arm moves to clear, one of two boards is lifted out of a box to reveal itself. We wondered what they said?

End of the day - Childswickham. The sleeper train is now empty, and can now be shunted out of the way so that here too the last panels can be fully clipped up.