Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Music, Maestro!

A day of three movements today, in a musical theme:

Work on ballasting the extension has resumed! Great news. Kick-off at 08.30 this morning in the Broadway lower car park, for a day of ballast dumpering.

Stevie back from holiday, a dumper hired in, ballast ordered and coming in fast - we are go !

If you've been paying attention at the back there, you'll remember that we left the 'head of ballast' about 200 yds short of the Childswickham Road bridge just before Christmas.

On a drizzley morning, this was the view first thing. No ballast bed visible yet, looking south from the Childswickham Road bridge. Ex Laverton FB rail is stacked on the right, ready to be dragged through Broadway to make a start of the northern headshunt and surrounding pointwork.

In the previous two months, despite the Winchcombe relay, Steve has had the time to grade all the ballast piles we left for him on the Terram.

It looks so good, that, seen looking north near the old PWay hut,  you'd think that we were already there. This bit is just about ready for track laying.

However, our first 6 drops were at Peasebrook, where some dips round the bridge needed sorting.

This in fact is the 'head of ballast', half way between Pry Lane  and Childswickham Road bridges. It was out of sight in the previous picture, so we are not there yet.
New rolls of Terram have been positionedt, ready to roll out. Each one gives you 100m.


We finished dropping at Peasebrook and started on extending the head of ballast, when a call came to assist with a ballast dropping train at Winchcombe. This gave Steve the chance to sort out the two dips at Peasebrook, while the drop at Winchcombe was executed.
Here is the PWay ballast train, with 6 brimming Dogfish, awaiting its operators at Winchcombe. Lee and Neil discuss how the drop will take place.

After dropping off two bogie flats destined for sleeper loading, the ballast train is moved up to the south end of platform 2, and the last Dogfish placed precisely, so that only the voids are filled when we set off, doors open.

Very undesirable is any ballast dropping into the pointwork, which has already been ballasted by hand.

How far will the one wagonload go?

With its sweeping tyre in place under the plough, the grinding and screetching train slowly sets off towards the turnout, watched by a philosophical member of the S&T gang, which is connecting up the two new starter signals.

Right on cue at the end of the panel of plain track, the wagon we opened runs out. Phew! The Shark has followed on behind and levelled/spread the ballast further out. The void is quite deep here.

Here is the drop just effected, seen from the balcony of the Shark. Doesn't it look neat? On the right is the platform 1 road, where a second wagon load will be discharged over a similar length. A Jacker/Packer will then make a first pass to effect a basic tamping excercise, before the 07 tamper returns at the end of the month.

After ballasting the platfom 1 road as well, the train gets into position to start on the plain track south of the repositioned turnout.

The plough is wound up and down numerous times (ouch!) as it needs to be up to pass over the turnout, and down to do its work during a ballast drop.

Finally, the last 4 wagons were discharged along the plain line, one by one, leading up to the tunnel. More ballast is needed here, 6 wagons was not enough. They will be refilled tomorrow morning, for a second drop tomorrow afternoon.


Ballasting dropping at Winchcombe completed, it was time to get back to Broadway and continue with Stevie. The idea was to get rid of all the ballast supplied early this morning, so that more deliveries can be made tomorrow.

A final load at the end of daylight finds this scene near the sewage farm. The first roll of Terram is coming to its end (100m used then) and the next one has already been positioned, ready for use.

The blue drum is a critical part of the process. After leaving Pry Lane bridge in the middle distance, we need to change sides with the track in order to enter the former station confines on the down side. While rolling out the Terram yard by yard, we aim for the blue drum, which marks the point where the edge of the Terram will have reachd the other side. As you can see, we are nearly at that point. From there onwards, it is about another 150 yards to Childswickham Road bridge, which is our target for this week. We should be working here most if not all days for the rest of the week.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017


Lifting was the order of the day today - the sleepers, so that they could get a minimal packing underneath, ready for a first ballast train, and the rails, with lifting fishplates, to get uneven rails at the same level. The day started well enough, with a dry morning but heavy showers forecast for the afternoon. Actually, there was only one shower. It lasted from 12.30 to 4 o'clock! Ugh.

First things first, a strong cup of tea, a biscuit and a briefing. Ours was to be a bit of a catch up day, the track now being in. We split into 2 teams, one at the tunnel, the other over the turnout.

There were 3 more sleepers to be replaced in the tunnel. The first 10 yards leak quite badly, and the drips have deteriorated the sleepers immediately underneath. We investigated the pile of sleepers removed from the straight, and selected 3 good ones for transporting up to the tunnel mouth.
This big pile still needs removing back to the yard. We made a start on it, but the material is so heavy that the trolleys were overwhelmed and we did just the one.

We took the heavy chairs off a good dozen of them, and carried 3 on to a double trolley that we had brought up.

It's good to see directors get their hands dirty too, can't complain here !

In the tunnel mouth others had dug out the first of the three rotten sleepers, and the replacement was soon slid in. This gang is very practised, it went quite quickly..

Today there was only little mechanical assistance, which was the Telehandler that loaded fresh ballast one trolley at a time. These were then pushed up the slope (yes, it's uphill through the tunnel, the summit being on the other end).

Once on site just inside the tunnel, the load was shovelled off into the gaps around the newly replaced sleepers. The stone was then packed underneath.

To tidy up, the rotten sleepers were loaded on to the now empty trolley and taken away.

Finally the trolley was loaded with scrap rail cut offs, and still useable chairs from the dozen sleepers we dismantled. All this went back into the yard.

A trolley load of chairs and scrap is pushed up the newly connected loop. Check out the new signals here. These are now the starters for both platforms, marking the extent of the longer platform and loop roads made possible by our relaying exercise. S&T haven't sat still; the progress since Saturday is remarkable. It is expected that these two starters will be operational for the first train.

Looking the other way, we see the old starter signal on the station side of the road bridge. The scaffolding is not for taking it down, but to convert it to a repeater signal with a banner. The operation of this will be connected to the new starters, the latter being short posts so that they can be seen through the bridge.

Lunchtime was a joyous occasion, as it was Dave's birthday! Mrs. Dave baked a lovely cake, which came in a very large tin. After unveiling, the question was asked, who wants cake, and a roomful of hands shot up.
The age of the cake cutter was not made public, but the absence of candles leads one to assume that their large number was thought to present a worrying fire risk.

As we returned for lunch, it started to rain. The first of the 'showers', no doubt. Just need to sit this one out, we thought. It didn't stop though.

As the precipitation increased, and became quite concerning, a number paused outside the refreshment room under the canopy to wait for an abatement.

It didn't come either.

The rain drummed on the carriage roofs, large puddles appeared on the platform and water began to pour out of the gutters. The sky remained heavy and dark, with no sign of a break in the clouds.

Eventually, even those who had volunteered to help with the washing up were forced to retun to work, but the bench under the canopy looked very attractive, as the rain continued to hammer down in large quantities.

John R took the opportunity to fire a series of dubious jokes at his enforced audience. There was no escape.

After a good 20 minute wait, we ventured out again into what turned out to be light but continuous rain.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the yard, as an incoming scrap train met an outgoing empty ballast working. Who had the right of way?

The ballast train was filled by the Telehandler on the barrow crossing, and taken to the turnout, which had a number of suspended timbers, which need to be packed securely before a real, and very much heavier ballast train could cross it.
Working down from the tunnel mouth, Lee and Andy also packed every floating sleeper, so that at the end of the day the majority of this job was secured, leaving perhaps a little more to do at the station end.

Another of our jobs was to fit so-called 'lifters' to various joints in the turnout. As we are working with second hand rail, the ends often do not match in their wear rates, leaving a step between one rail and another. This is cured by fitting a special set of fishplates, which has one end higher than the other. They come in units of 1/16th inch. Of course the one you want is still on the trolley, several yards away.

A problem for us today was the fitting of this insulated set of fishplates, which besides being insulated, also provided a lift. Very specialised.

Being so specialised, they are not often used and this example had been in the back of the GUV for so long that the nuts had rusted on solid. It took us ages to get them off, even with the use of the motorised nut runner and a plentiful and regular application of black, sticky PWay grease. Clive observed the operation of the nut runner so closely, that his face became covered in spots of grease off the spinning nuts, including a large one on his glasses, which perplexed him at first as he suddenly saw a lot less well.

Here is Clive checking the step up required for one set of mismatched rails. Will it be 1/8th, or 3/16ths?

We have to speak in Imperial here, as that is what is marked indelibly on the back of the fishplates.

Metrication has not penetrated this far yet.

At the end of the day we had broken the back of the lifting job, although a little still remains to be done. We were all soaked, leather gloves sodden, and the 'builder's cleavages' filled with rainwater from bending over.
We loaded the tools on to the trolleys and trudged homewards, happy and satisfied that we had progressed the reactivation of this part of the line a little closer. Not long now till the first train of the season!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Snow, and a milestone

Pretty grim weather today - zero degrees on arrival, which painfully climbed to one degree during the day. There was even snow on the ground at Winchcombe today, and up the cutting where a gang of 14 set to work.

 Winchcombe signal box had a white roof, and the Cotswolds behind were covered in mist, with patches of white. Very seasonal !

Ever had problems starting your car in the cold? Well, it's the same with the motorised sleeper drills and nut runners (A.k.a 'Animals')

This one wouldn't start at all. Steve has got the sparkplug out; the others are peering anxiously to see if it is wet or not. That will give you a hint to what is wrong.

Finally we got one going, and here is Mike with the drilling gang, drilling holes in the replaced timbers to tie down the whole thing nice and tight (and preferrably to gauge too)

As these machines are heavy, there is a change of operator at intervals, and here it's Paul's turn on the drill, while Neil waits to follow up with the nut runner to secure the bolts.

Just before drilling the final holes, a check is made that the whole thing is true to gauge. Measure twice, cut once - the old adage is still true.

By the end of the day (and we are talking nearly 5pm now, since the evenings are getting longer) the drilling team had done every one of the holes on the turnout, perhaps as many as 200 holes drilled.

Here is a section of the turnout, with the yellow and orange colours denoting the shavings from holes drilled in different kinds of wooden sleeper.

We all do what we can within our abilities, and here is John, older than most of us but still very game, with a whole bunch of chairs screws greased up and ready to go.

Today we also put in the last rail, which Andy has just cut to size. The whole relay section can now be traversed by a PWay trolley, or indeed the Landie.

A second team split off and completed the keying up of the straight between the tunnel mouth and the bracket signal. Although quite a few keys had already been inserted, the welding team had to free up 3 chairs each side of a weld in order to level up the two rail ends to be welded together. These all had to be put back, and usually the holes under the chairs no longer lined up, meaning lifting and fiddling with the holes and the chair screws.
As we were only a small team, it was sometimes the case of one person in charge of two lifting bars. We can handle that.

You can always learn something in the PWay game, there are many tricks and neat solutions.

How do you move a whole pile of Pan keys without a wheelbarrow?

Andy shows us how - make a daisy chain of them. OK, OK, no need to look so smug.

The keying up team moves slowly up the line towards the tunnel mouth. In the backround the bolting down team spent nearly the whole day on the turnout.
The track still needs a bit of 'tweaking', but we are getting nearer the day we can let a ballast train drop a load in here.

By the tunnel mouth a catch pit issue still had to be resolved. It is in the 'six foot' i.e. the centre of the track, but the running line is not in its historical place, being a foot or so nearer the centre.

This means that the previously covered catch pit, opened and cleaned, has had to be covered again. Moving the running line back to where it should be is a huge job, and would also require the purchase of quite a bit of additional ballast to gain extra height required.

As the three sleepers involved had to rest on something, we reinstated the original arrangement where they rested on ballast supported by 5 rail cut offs. At least we can run trains again now.

Back at the Winchcombe end, two new signal posts have been planted, to allow for the longer platform and loops that we have created.

With the turnout finally bolted down, it was time to 'tweak' it and correct the curve that goes through it. With the JCB now 'on holiday' we had to resort to the time honoured manual way, i.e. men on bars.

Nigel has stepped way back and is eyeing up one of the running rails, before giving instructions to heave the heavy pointwork over by an inch this way or that. Of course the final adjustment will be done by the tamper when it returns at the end of the month.

A short while later the team addressed the loop line, which had a curve in it that was rather too generous. This bit was rather easier, esp with more people on bars to help. In fact we actually overshot at one point, and had to tweak it back the other way.

Our last picture shows the gang, in the failing light, barring the loop line as it comes off the platform. A bit more work is needed here, but we can't work in the dark so will need to do this next time.

Thanks a million

The milestone mentioned in the title is that we have reached a MILLION !

A million pounds on the share appeal, thanks to your great and hugely appreciated support. We have £250.000 still to find, but after crossing the million mark, the end really looks achievable now. Remember that £1.25m is only for the minimum to get us to Broadway, so do help us get there in fine style.

Another, more modest milestone is that this family of blogs has been blessed with a MILLION page views. The interest you have shown in our activities shows that we must be doing something right. We do hope, as the blogs are free and we have not yielded to the temptation to allow ads on them, that sometimes you will reach for your chequebook and reward us with a share purchase or gift to the trust.

So where have you clicked the most? Here is a little summary of your interest shown, over the lifetime to date, in each of the blogs in this group:

Extension Blog: 414.000 views
Hayles Abbey Herald: 50.000 views
Building Services Bulletin: 111.000 views
Bridges Blog: 161.000 views
CRC2 Blog: 271.000 views.

Grand total as of yesterday: 1.007.000 page views. Wow!

You did it, dear reader, so give yourself a richly deserved pat on the back. And thank you for supporting the GWR, see you again shortly with the next post.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The ballast regulator ventures forth

Bob Foster's Matisa R7 ballast regulator, newly equipped with bristles for its rotating brush, was used on the Broadway extension for the first time on Wednesday. Having been inactive for quite a while, it sprang a hydraulic line during its first day back at work, but the repair with a new hose was quick and easy, and it was soon back at work again.

Yesterday the regulator cleared the whole of the current length of the extension up to the PWay train at Peasebrook Farm, starting from the beginning of old Laverton Loop. A second day was pencilled in for today, and at 9am the machine can be seen here at Toddington, ready to depart northwards.

The area to be treated, if time permitted, was from Stanway viaduct to the start of the former Laverton Loop.

In this picture the regulator has just set off at Stanway, with the top of the viaduct just visible in the background.

These two pictures show the track before the regulator has passed over, and after its passage.

In the first case, the sleepers are barely visible.

The speed is a slow walking pace. The box at the front, which can be raised hydraulically, contains a rotating brush and a conveyor belt, which ejects the ballast collected to the left or right as desired.

This second picture shows the track after the passage of the regulator - everything is very neat, and the fittings are visible for inspection or working on. There is now more ballast on the shoulders.

The excess ballast ejected at the front is left as a long row on the shoulder, and can be ploughed away further, as is the case here. The angle of the plough is adjustable.

The transformation of the sleeper tops is clear in this picture, supervised by Andy of the PWay gang. The row of wet ballast being formed is caused by stone being ejected from the yellow flap at the front.

All went well for about half a mile, until Bob stopped the machine due to a blocked conveyor belt at the front end.

This puzzled us for quite a while. It was clear that the amount of ballast on top of the belt was abnormally high, but this alone should not block the passage of the belt.

Not having a shovel with us (tip for next time) it took some effort to clear the belt of its load. Even without the load it would not run, and eventually we traced the issue to a stone blocked underneath it, which jammed the rotation of the drum in the picture. Another tip for next time: bring a thick bent wire with you, for retrieval of said stone.

Blockage finally cleared, the machine set off again at its steady pace.

By lunch time, the regulator had tidied up the trackbed from Stanway viaduct to Stanton road, seen here right on the horizon. The rate of progress is between 1/2 mile to one mile an hour, so you can easily keep up with it by walking alongside. In fact yours truly and Andy walked up ahead to Stanton Fields bridge about a mile away, in order to gather information as to the high spots that could best be addressed in the time we had available.

In this last picture the machine has just reached our ballast depot at Stanton, and has 'raised its skirts' in order to move on more speedily to the next site. This was to start at the aqueduct, just behind the camera.
The intention was to carry on through then to where yesterday's job started, giving a clear run all the way from the viaduct to Peasebrook Farm.

If you enjoy watching this sort of thing, you can see a video of the work here: