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:


  1. Thanks for the photos jo, was very interesting to see the trackbed state to willersey. Good in winter time too as the vegetation is thinner....
    Time for a willersey area group !

    1. If I am not mistaken, it was at Willersey village hall and the Bell pub that the GWSR was born.

    2. Yes indeed, the inaugural meeting of what was then called the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway Society was held at Willersey Village Hall in 1976. I didn't attend the meeting but found out about the society (whose aim at that time was to keep the line open by BR, failing that, to run it as a heritage railway)from a friend and joined in 1977. The rest, as they say....! Toddington Ted.

    3. In 1986 when I moved to G4 HQ I was put in B&b in Willersey and spent many a happy hour with Ray, and his wife Mildred, who ran the Bell. Ray had been a fireman on the GWR and told wonderful tales of his beloved Railway.

  2. Jo, thanks for the photos of Springfield Lane to Willersey. By chance my lunchtime run yesterday took me along the trackbed in the reverse direction (thankfully avoiding your camera!) which was the first time I had ventured along there since the early 1980s when it was a lot less overgrown! I remember the uncovered ballast that remained then being hard work for my then 8 year old legs to walk along!

  3. Hi Jo, I am interested in the ballast regulator you have hired as we, on the Gwili, have hired the very same machine for sometime in February to clear the ballast on our new extension. Is there any chance I could visit your extension to see the regulator at work?

    1. Send me am email at breva2011 (at)

  4. Hi,Jo.It's good to see pics,of the Winchcombe relay!.With the turnout,being moved further bsck,to the bracket signal,the view from the middle of the Down platform,will look different.Be able to imagine double track!.As you're cutting the ends off the rails,I assume there is spare rail,to fill the resulting gap!.Can you still buy new bullhead rail,these days?.Regards!. Anthony.

    1. Hi,again Jo.I,had a look,at the Broaway/Willersey,photos.The one,looking through Springfield Lane bridge,towards the station.After the signalbox,at Broadway closed,a set of electric colour light signals,was put in,in both directions.The Down one,was a few yards,on the Willersey side of the bridge.They were refered to as IBS,(Inner block signals). Anthony Locke.

    2. Thank you, Anthony.
      I don't know about more bullhead. I'm sure we've got some spare in the yard, but basically we are now laying FB as bullhead concretes are getting scarce.

    3. Sorry to be pedantic but they were Intermediate Block Signals - a way of shortening the long block from Honeybourne West to Toddington. The one by Springfield Lane bridge was controlled by Honeybourne West Loop Signal Box.