Saturday 29 April 2017

Layin' it down

A good day today, with plenty of progress towards Broadway. We had the messs coach and van up at Peasebrook, two bogies and a Conflat with sleepers, and a fresh load of new rail. All the tools of the trade, now for the muscle.

We had the availability of both the Telehandler and Steve on the JCB, but not both at once - well, in the morning, at least. This is because a small group split off from the track laying gang to drop in the big rubber pads for the next foot crossing (we did one at Laverton south, this path crosses between Laverton north and the curve at Little Buckland.)

Meanwhile, the track laying gang got to work by the trees adjacent to Peasebrook Farm, using just the Telehandler. This is slower, as the Telehandler has to both get the sleepers, and lay them. Here you can see a stack of 12 put down in the foreground, and the top 4 are being laid on the end of the rail head.

The laying in of the crossing pads didn't take very long, and soon both machines were working. Here Alan is bringing the next supply, while Steve has set up with the chains, ready to swing the sleepers into place. This method is much faster, and also more accurate.

Well, it's fast until you meet a sleeper covered in mud, so that the holes are blocked up. What have we got to poke it out with? Mike tries out his Swiss army knife, with partial success. Better was Paul's offering - a heavy screwdriver, and a lump hammer. That worked OK.

Here's the clipping up side of the laying team. Paul and Bert Ferrule are really practised in this, in seconds the beam is attached to 4 sleepers and Steve can lift away.

The set of 4 is lifted up and swung over, then finally guided into place with loud shouts of 'Malvern' or 'Broadway' to tell Steve which way to inch the load. Then it's plonked down, the clips removed, and the spacers taken forward for the next set.


But wait, this sleeper looks a bit different. The centre is higher, and it's from a different manufacturer. We can't mix them up.

The only way to be sure is to measure the space between the hoops, and their height (this determines the thickness of the pads)

It was different. Only 3mm, but that counts. It has to come out, which is a time consuming nuissance. You then get an odd sleeper lying beside the track.

Alan speeds off down the trackbed to get another load. It's still dusty, as you can see. Why can't you move the supply train any nearer? Well, where it's parked in the distance the ground is level and the Telehandler can reverse sideways with a load from the stack. Where the camera is in the picture, we are on a high embankment, and there's nowhere for the Telehandler to reverse to to extract the next load.

While Alan is away, you can see that we have now advanced beyond the trees by the farm. We are here next to the field adjacent to the sewage farm.

We spent the rest of the morning laying out sleepers, and this is how far we got at lunchtime. The yellow rape field is the one next to the sewage farm, our next 'milestone' if you like. This is how we measure our progress. After the sewage farm, Pry Lane bridge.

Time for lunch, cooked by Jim, bless him. This is always popular. The stretch we laid this morning starts by the furthest of the two figures. Most of us climb on the Landie for a rollicking drive down the trackbed up to the mess coach.

While we tuck into hamburger, chips and beans, it occurs to us that we are just on the Gloucestershire side of the county border - it's that curved line you can see in the fields. We think Jim was actually cooking in Worcestershire, walking over into Gloucestershire with armfuls of hot plates.

Small talk in the mess hut reveals that one of us worked in the Walls ice cream factory many moons ago, another helped to pack the ices as a holiday job but then became a teacher, while another worked for Cadbury's. They were allowed to help themselves to as much chocolate and ice cream as they wanted, but the desire to do this soon waned. Can you blame them?

Coming back to the 'coal face' after lunch, you can see here how far the track and sleepers stretch beyond Peasebrook Farm underbridge. And there's still an afternoon of laying to go!

While we concentrated on laying out sleepers in the morning, in the afternoon we decided to lay in rails as well - two jobs on the go at once.

This double activity did mean that there was a ballet on the trackside, as the JCB dragging rails crossed with the Telehandler ferrying sleepers up and down.

Here Alan is waiting patiently for Steve to come by with another rail, one which was on a lorry only Monday this week. We work quickly here, you know.

While we wait for Alan to come back with more, there's a moment available to sort out this sleeper. It's a wrong 'un. Too big. Useable, but only with others like it. In the absence of the JCB, now dragging rails, the only way to get it out is to bar it. Can be done, but it's awkward.

Now Alan is back, and without the JCB we are back to laying with the Telehandler only. The result is a more wriggly line of sleepers, but at least they are down. We do our best to straighten them up in between arrivals.

On this last one you can see by how much they are often out. Alan has set off in a dust cloud, while Steve is pulling a rail off the bogie flat. Rail laying is taking place in the centre of the picture. The newly laid rail only gets one or two clips at each end to hold it in place; a new team then has to clip up every other fastening, which makes it fit for a basic train to pass, and allows the welding and ballasting to take place. Full clipping up only happens after the stressing.

Is it still far to Broadway? Steve takes a wistful look into the distance. The posts mark the line of the sleeper ends to which we lay them out.

We are doing really well at the 'coal face', but here comes an inspection. Oh-oh. It's all nice and straight, isn't it?

This picture shows the point reached at the end of the day with the laying out of sleepers.

We laid 212 of them today, above average for a day. We felt pretty happy with that, especially as the same team also dropped in the foot crossing pads. Given that the Conflat also had two stacks on it, we laid about half of the supplies today. We will try to empty the second half next Saturday, so that the bogies can be taken back for refilling.

While we did a good job on laying out sleepers, we also managed to drop in 6 pairs of rails.

In  this picture Steve has just arrived with the last pair of the day. All we need to do is drop it into place and put a few clips on.

Here the penultimate rail is dropped into its bed. We are a pretty practised lot now, things went very smoothly during this very productive day.

Following the additional ballasting earlier in the week, the regulator will come back in early May to sweep the northen half of the second section to be stressed. Stressing itself has been booked for the second half of May. Then comes another mega day of clipping up 1000m of track fittings.

Other news

The section of trackbed north of Broadway (not in GWSR plc ownership) suffered a bridge strike this week at Weston Sub Edge.

This is a bridge 'over', so the trackbed runs underneath. The site of Weston Sub Edge station is just to the right, and we are looking towards Bretforton. Unusually, the bridge has been struck from above.

Looking at the remains, it appears that a lorry, possibly carrying plastic pipes (several are visible in the cess) left the road surface, ran off the tarmac and hit the bridge pilaster.

Looking from above, the pilaster has been completely demolished, and with some force, as the pilaster cap has been thrown 10m or so into the centre of the trackbed, and smashed into two.

The above is from personal observation of the remains only, so if anyone has any actual facts, we'd be interested to hear more.


  1. Great relaying you lot! It seems so peaceful there on the track bed, (bet it's a bit noisier in reality). However, I can just see a service train going along to Broadway and a tourist being told that if he looks carefully, he will see the sewage works!?! Close the windows quickly!! Well..... Regards, Paul.

  2. I'd be very surprised if the lorry at Weston Sub Edge left the scene under its own power. Possibly the police, but almost certainly the recovery services would have been involved, and from the pictures, that driver was incredibly lucky not to end up 20ft below on the tracked. Are there any police "Can you Help" notices up at the roadside, do you know?
    God, there's some dangerous idiots out there.

  3. I hope they've caught the culprit and they are going to claim against them for the bridge repair.

  4. A,few years back,there used to be a serious hump,in that bridge,at Weston Subedge,before they levelled it out,a bit!.It's really good,to see the railhead advancing towards Pry Lane!.Keep up,the good work!. Anthony