Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Ballast to Broadway north

Yesterday our contractor Steve and two volunteer dumper drivers started bringing in ballast to Broadway north. This is the 350m long stretch from the end of the platforms, to our northern boundary at Springfield Lane.

Due to a camera failure, you didn't get a report, but the battery has now been spoken to sharply and is back in service, so here is two in one. Yesterday we shuttled up 150 tons, and this morning a further supply of new ballast had been delivered to the 'car park', so we were ready to attack a second day.

First, find your dumper. I left it here somewhere last night, right?

Dumpers don't have foglights (they don't have a lot of things, but we manage) so we drove 'by sense of smell' - for the fans of the opera 'Tommy'.

It's a tricky manoeuvre in the fog here at the road bridge. A collapsed catch pit ring on the left, the platform edge on the right. Steve brought over a supply of steel plates for the catch pits, so they won't give us any more trouble now. Then a zig-zag over the bridge - straight ahead has been taped off, as a bridge inspection is due following yet another strike, the 10th in 2 1/2 years. What to do, without spending a lot of money? There is no easy answer.




Down in the 'car park' another 6 loads of ballast were delivered first thing, and we had a 360 going with a big bucket, so we loaded quickly.

After spending an hour covering the two most hindersome catchpits with steel plates, the sun had come out and it was a glorious day.







Two dumpers ran up and down, with a long 'single track' section down the middle as only half the trackbed was made available between the platforms. Luckily we had 'passing loops' at each end, and knew each other's rhythms.






In this picture you can see yesterday's piles of ballast in the distance, and a row of marker posts on the right indicating the ballast levels to be achieved. It was a bit hit and miss to start with, as rather than lay two track's worth of ballast in two rows, we were filling in the bottom of the cutting, which is slightly wider. Over the last 5 years quite a bit of spent ballast has been extracted from this stretch, and used to backfill the new platforms, so clean ballast has to be put in its place now. The levels are also slightly different, as we are starting from platform ends which are longer than before, and the extension of the platform, itself level, was built on a falling gradient. All very complicated.




Steve's instructions were to get it down there; he would sort out the levels.

From this picture you can see that we were quite busy yesterday, as these piles have so far had only two drops added to them today (the whiter ones nearer the camera).



Here's a scene many of you will have waited for eagerly. One of the first dumper loads of ballast is paused outside Broadway signal box. We've got several more days of this to go yet.



In between times, Steve also started bringing up the ex Laverton Loop rail, which will be laid at Broadway north in the form of a siding and a headshunt. Unfortunately the JCB suffered a burst hydraulic pipe yesterday, so for the time being you'll have to content yourselves with this single pair. More rail, and a pair of buffer stops, will come up in the next few days - the burst pipe has now been replaced.






Running a dumper without any form of suspension up and down a rutted and potholed trackbed is very bouncy indeed, and all the shocks make your teeth want to fall out. One of the dumper drivers brought in a thick cushion in  a plastic bag. It seemed to do the trick for him, as he brought it back again today.




By lunch time we had dealt with the 6 loads the quarries had delivered to us (we had ordered a lot more, but you can't always get what you want - our second reference to rock music today!). Here the two dumpers are parked up by the mess hut for lunch. The second has a small supply of type 1, which we used to back fill a void that we found.





After lunch, with all ballast supplies for the day ferried in, Steve set off to level the piles dropped yesterday and today, about 280 tons in all.







This overview, an update of the empty trackbed picture here taken a few weeks back, shows how far we got in two days. Behind the camera, Springfield Lane bridge, and the overgrown trackbed to Honeybourne. Due to the perspective it looks as if we did more than what is actually on the ground - we are really about one third of the way to our target near the platform ends.




After a while, Steve requested the assistance of one dumper, to move an excess to an area of not quite enough.

If you enlarge the picture, you can see more clearly how the whole Broadway site is on a curve, between Pry Lane bridge and the camera.




Here's the dumper being loaded with a couple of buckets of the excess, for re-dumping further along.

With all that sunshine today, we can't complain about the mud and the rain any more, but now we can complain of the DUST !

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Clipping up

Just when we needed a maximum gang to throw itself at the 4 - 5000 clips that need inserting, along came a Telehandler refresher course. While three of us had the pleasure of a video and some practice in the Winchcombe yard, a reduced gang of 11 set off for Laverton with vast piles of clips and 'biscuits' in the back of the Landie.

It's a long walk from the road to the work site, which today began virtually at the stop board of the running line. A long way to go. Here we are at the foot crossing and the southern anchor point.




We split into two gangs, one starting from the south, the other from the pulling point at Laverton bridge.

It would be nice to meet somewhere in the middle, but at the start it was slow work, before we found our rhythm.







This rhythm was achieved by breaking into little sub gangs, each with their own purpose.

Here Tony is preparing the biscuits and clips, while Mike no longer has to bend down each time, and can remain standing while he hammers in the clips from above.




Various things are designed to interupt smooth progress. Here it is a foot crossing, which is equipped with timbers and Pandrol clips, instead of concretes and SHC clips.

Did we remember to bring the Pan Pullers? Yes.

Did we remember to bring a few spare Pandrol clips? Er, no.

Never mind, we can get them at lunch time.
Steve gives the Pan puller a big heave, while a service DMU sneaks up from behind, on the running section, which ends at the stop board beyond the gang.

Look behind you, Bert !
Before you reach for your pens, the DMU had stopped already, and was on the other side of the stop board on the right. No worries.





We got regular visits fom the DMU, but we gradually worked our way away from it.

In this picture we have already done several lengths, fully clipped up.





Pausing for a break, we debate the supply of materials. We need more of everything really. Two of the southern team spent most of the day laying out 'biscuits' and clips along our side of the length, so that the stillage in the Landie was empty, and we had to scratch around for more from incidental piles found on site. Luckily we return to Winchcombe for lunch, so an opportunity to resupply.


A lunch followed of sausage and chips, rounded off with an Italian Pandoro cake, which was surprisingly good, given that it was left over from Christmas.

Newly strengthened, we attacked a pile of SHC clips found on a rotten pallet in the undergrowth. With this, the depleted stillage on the Landie was filled up again. A few sacks of 'biscuits' thrown on top completed our trawl for more supplies.



Now back to work! It was a fabulous day, but tricky to dress for. The starting temperature was only two degrees, but by lunch time the jackets were off and sun hats came out.
Note that in this picture we are on a slight curve. This was the site of the first turnout of the former Laverton loop (you can still see some parts of the turnout in the distance). Because of the double curve in this 500m stressed section, the rail had moved sideways slightly within the sleeper bed. This meant that there was a wide gap on one side for the 'biscuit', and no gap on the other side.

After 'THE PRISONER', and the 'PERSUADERS', we now give you:
'THE EQUALISER'
(patents pending)
Yes, it's our very own bit of kit, designed to give a bar that little bit of fulcrum close to the foot of the rail, so that even a 500m rail under tension can be levered over enough to quickly push in a 'biscuit'.

This was the job of one of our gang, to go ahead and make sure that the rail was central (which it wasn't, in this 'S' curve). Just need to remember not to insert a finger in with the plastic...

Waiting for the man...



Further ahead, and now in sight of the team working south, John takes 5 while he waits for a further supply of clips. It's a lonely vigil, out here in the middle of the Laverton fields.



Looking the other way, the southern gang is furiously inserting clips, using the materials John has already laid out.

We're now some way from the stop board, which is rather satisfying. We gave ourselves an unofficial little target, which was the insulated block joint, about half way along this 500m section.



It has a little tale of its own. The IBJ is quite a long fish plate, so the sleepers have to be underneath it. In order to get the Pandrol clip in, the fishplate has a hollowed out section (here between the first and second bolts) and you make allowance for this when you lay the track and space out the sleepers.

Then, along comes a team and stresses the rail. This now moves along a bit. Darn !

The sleeper now has to be dug out again, and moved 6 inches to the right.

Here's a look at the bit we did this morning. Doesn't it look neat! Every clip is hammered home, a long, long row of them, four to a sleeper.
Another visit from the DMU, now in the distance. It's just moving off again (cough).

Although the southern gang intended to stop at the IBJ, the northern gang was so close that we pressed on and here you see the two gangs meeting, the whole stretch done! Smile, chaps! The southern 500m are now clipped up, now for the 500m north of the bridge. That's for next week.


Broadway works

For several days last week Steve, supported by a volunteer dumper driver, worked to prepare the trackbed north of the station for the first supplies of ballast here.





By Friday, the 350m stretch had had its edges dug out and tidied, and the trackbed levelled. A lot of earth and spent ballast from the edges was ferried away, inter alia to make a new approach road to the embankment at Childswickham.






The trackbed now looks quite wide. The rear half will have track ballast dropped on it straight away, while the nearer half will need a supply of type 1 to bring it up to ballast level. The different levels to be achieved are highlighted on the post in yellow and blue. Once the new ballast is in, the rail from Chldswickham will be dragged over, as well as two buffer stops.

Watch this space !

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Stressing at Laverton

Today was the big day, when a maximum of volunteers was needed. Annoyingly, it was also a day of maximum rain, but we ploughed on regardless. Heavy squalls were forecast. We had four of them during the day, and one was already in progress at 08.30 when Haigh Rail started work on stressing the rail at Laverton bridge.

The pictures don't show you the falling rain, but rest assured, it came down OK. The faces tell their own story.

This then is the stressing unit, a pair of hydraulic rams operated by a pump and a small Honda motor. It's amazing what power can come out of such a small machine.
One rail is stressed at a time, and you can see the two gaps in question at the pulling point.


The first thing to do, after setting up the unit, is to measure the gap between the rails.

The actual gap required is determined on the day, and cut accordingly. You can get everything on-line these days, including the calculation to determine the gap required. Among the inputs are the length of the rails (500m each) their size, and the temperature of the rail. A colder rail is a shorter one, and this morning the air temperature was only 5 degrees.






Here Mick explains to our very own Bert Ferrule the finer details of the stressing process, and what the GWSR volunteers needed to do once it got under way.









Just to be quite sure, Mick then set off to measure the exact length of the rail to be stressed. It says 546m in the yellow patch below, but no doubt Mick has been stung before in his long experience of welding rail. Measure twice ! Weld once....





After returning from the southern anchor point, Mick retreated out of the rain into one of the vans to work out the distance required for the pull. It was 10 inches, so a bit needed to be cut off.




Among the debris of laying FB rail a number of analogue and digital thermometers were attached to the rail, to establish the exact temperature to be entered into the calculations. The rail here is on rollers, hence off the sleepers.






The hydraulic rams then came into play, the moment we had all wanted to see. The little generator was fired up, and imperceptibly the two ends of the rail began to edge closer to each other. We took a video of the process here:
https://youtu.be/I8EZ6pEAyLc
...and you'd be hard pressed to see the rail move, but move it did. The process seemed quite silent, there was no scraping or 'twanging'. A small gauge was used to determine the correct gap for welding, and when this was reached, the process was halted, and preparations began for welding the two ends together.





In the picture, the stretched rail ends are manoeuvered together with bars and wedges, to be at the same height and parallel when they are welded.






While the two rails are held together under tension, the rail ends are heated up with gas burners and the now familiar 'Vee' shaped flames emerge from the moulds.

While this is going on, others are undertaking numerous small tasks to prepare the rail for clipping up. For example, once the rail is stretched, the rollers all have to be removed again, and every sleeper fitted with a rubber or plastic pad underneath, on which the rail will sit.

Also, once the rail is under tension, it has to be clipped up for at least 50m each side of the weld. The rest also has to be done of course, but the first 50m each side are the most important.

Today we were lucky enough to have some additional assistance from a team of NR employees, who came to help us, all the way from Nuneaton. Here we can see the NR team starting to clip up the southern side of the weld.

Clipping up involves fitting two plastic pads to the foot of the rail, and then hammering home an 'SHC' clip.

Frequently however, the plastic pads won't fit, because the sleeper is not perfectly central to the bottom of the rail. If the gap is there but not big enough, you can usually get away with some carefull hammering with a keying hammer, but if there is zero gap, you need a special wedge and a large crowbar. This is of course located in the back of the Landie, hundreds of yards away, if it isn't actually moving away in the opposite direction just when you need it! The site is one kilometre long, after all.

Another weld, another squall. But Haig Rail have seen it all before, so they are prepared. When this shower hit us, out came an enormous umbrella, so that the mould could be made 'watertight' (should that be 'steeltight'?) with clay, in the dry. Here the guys are at work on the Malvern side gap, the rail already having been stressed on this side as well.





The disposable crucible is fitted, and the combustion process launched. Within seconds the steel melts and flows into the mould. It's a violent chemical reaction in there, with a huge production of heat.





The combustion process has run its course, and here we see the molten steel emerging at the sides. A clipping up gang is at work in the distance on the northern section.

A further downpour helps us decide that it's lunch time. While Haigh Rail continue the welding and finishing (they were gone after lunch) the GWSR gang return to the mess coach at Winchcombe.
The atmosphere in the mess coach was thick with steam and the smell of garlic - Chicken Kiev today, from our gourmet chef, Monsieur Paul. The coach was full to bursting, with a good sized gang but also the volunteers from NR, who came to help today.



An hour later we returned, to find Haigh Rail all tidied up and returned to base.

This is all that is left of the first pulling point, a neat pair of welds, now ground down flat. You cannot tell that the rail is now under tension, except when you hit it with a hammer, as it gives a loud 'ping', even from 500m away!





After lunch, and with the first 50m all neatly clipped up, we set out to provide the two halves of 500m with all the fittings they need for the clipping up.

The NR gang made their way down the southern half, and removed all the rollers, and placed pads under the rail for every sleeper.

The next squall is also on its way, and this time it hailed - why not?






In the northern half, the GWSR volunteer gang did the same. The hail has passed overhead, and is now bothering Childswickham.

In the foreground, orange plastic pads (known in the parlance as 'biscuits', don't ask why) have been laid out, 4 to a sleeper.




In the southern half, two volunteers are sharing a basket to drop the biscuits on the sleepers, in pairs.

At the end of the day, all the pads under the rails were in, 75% of the materials laid out in the south and 100% in the north (or so the gang says, we suspect some exaggeration and rivalry here)

In any case, there is plenty of work for the Saturday gang, and the materials for them are now in place.


Finally, shock, horror, as two wartime bombs are discovered in the boot of a volunteer. For display only, he says. Yeah, right, and defused as well, you say?