Wednesday 3 January 2018

The welder's final visit

Eighteen joints remained to be welded on the Broadway extension, all on the fish plated section by the goods shed. Here we are welding one joint in two, to save on wear and tear but still have the flexibilty of fishplates, albeit with 120ft lengths.

A fleet of vans from Haigh Rail descended upon us, intermingling with the people from the contractor repairing the damage from a bridge strike. It's all go here. Thank heavens we had a good commercial year in 2017, with just over 100.000 visits, 500 up on 2016. It doesn't make us rich, but it means we can afford some work on infrastructure.
In the picture above the vans are strung out along the length of track where the welds were due to go.

A problem issue was the fact that the rails had crept along since we laid them, only a few weeks earlier. We were most careful to apply the correct spacing between the rails laid, but it wasn't there any more today, despite all the Pandrols that we put in. Those temperature changes are very powerful.

The first job then was to move the rails along a bit using wedges.

On the bridge over the Childswickham Road you can see an example of the incorrect spacing.

It's closed right up in the foreground. The one in the background is +/- OK.

This one in fact is going to be a weld as it's right on top of the bridge. We don't want too much hammer blow up here.

Pandrols have been removed on several stretches like here to facilitate the rearrangement, but now they all have to be put back again. That is a lot slower, we noticed, sadly.

The welding process demands its own spacings (much wider) so they always cut a slice off to get a space big enough to receive the flow of metal from above.

We admired the neatness with which these experienced people cut off that slice, using a torch with little wheels on.

Once the space between the rails is the right size the moulds go on, and are made 'water tight' (or should that be metal tight?) with special clay patted round the cracks. They then heat the space with torches which give that lovely 'Vee' effect as the flames blast out. The pot with the mixture is ready by the side of the track.

The welding now seems to be done with single use crucibles, and it suffices to pop one on and start the intense chemical reaction inside with a taper from above.

Best stand a bit further back then.....

The reaction quickly zooms up to 3000 degrees Centigrade and the metal runs down into the gap, spilling over into two cups left and right. That's what's burning fiercely here.

Out beyond the bridge the GWSR gang, not idle either, set about clipping up the initial basic railway up to the bridge, and, once the welders had gone, also alongside the goods shed. This took most of the day, and there is still a bit left to do (remember all those Pandrol clips hammered out first thing to allow the rail to be repositioned?). In places this was very slow, as the rail that was moved along a bit took quite a few of the rubber pads with it, which stuck to the underside worse than limpets. It took ages to get the pads unstuck each time, and juggled back into position on each sleeper. And you don't want to stick your fingers under the rail either, however tempting it may seem to juggle the pad that way.

During all this time the contractors to repair the bridge strike were setting up camp in the 'car park' below. A couple of containers arrived and were put on the ground, just as the GWSR track gang and Haigh Rail arrived to drive right through the middle. Oh well, we are still good friends.

Today was the first day for the bridge strike repair. The strike was caused some weeks back now by someone carrying a 360 on a trailer, without ascertaining what the height of the load was. According to industry research (reported in the December issue of a leading railway magazine) an appalling 43% of lorry drivers admit to not knowing the height of their vehicle, while 52% do not take low bridges into account when planning their journeys. The circular sign giving the height as 14'3'' is not a mere warning notice, it is actually a prohibition. To no effect though if almost half of lorry drivers do not know the height of their load.

Elsewhere today the GWSR PWay gang took up the track on Gotherington Skew bridge, which is due some regular repair and maintenance with its deck exposed. Trains have stopped running now.

Here they are taking some track components to the recycling skip, as the track will be relaid over the bridge after the works with more modern materials.

At Broadway you can see that the track over the bridge is on wooden sleepers. This is to save weight, and to give some more elasticity to the stresses imposed by the passing of a heavy steam loco.
In the picture you can also see that the ballast drop a couple of weeks ago has been levelled off by Stevie in the mini digger. More ballast will be dropped shortly.

Looking the other way, this time from the balcony of the SHARK brake, you can see that one of the Haigh Rail crews has just set off their reaction, with evidence of the immense heat released coming out of the top of the vessel.

Shortly afterwards the surplus flowed out into the two side vessels. All 18 welds were completed today, so this bit of track is now ready for final tweaking and some ballast into it.

The last job after welding is to get the grinder out to smooth off the excess metal on top, and to make it undetectable by the passing wheel.

This is what it looks like when it's finished. very neat, and smooth.

The two adjacent Pandrols were not fitted so as to allow the crew the chance to position the two rail ends exactly in line. All these welds still need to have the pads, plastics and Pandrols put back on. A job for next week.

At the end of the day we were happy that all the welds had been completed, despite the initial misgivings about the expansion and contraction of the metal moving the gaps about. All is now well; there's just more clipping up to do (not to mention the 3/4 clips to be put in near Peasebrook on the last CWR stretch). So plenty of work still on our plate.

Before going home, we popped in to Broadway station for a chat and a picture, which we will share with you here.

It's the booking office, really starting to look like something now. The walls are plastered, the floor screed is in, a mat well has been created, the supports for the wainscoting are fixed to the walls, and the holes for the ticket hatches are in place. The hatches themselves will be copies of originals found, after much searching, further up the N Warwickshire Line into Birmingham at Yardley Wood. We think it is the only original left on the line. The hatch at Toddington is not original, being merely an opening for ticket sales made into an outside window. The original booking office was where the shop is today (which was knocked through into the original ticket office/stationmaster's room). Perhaps one day this could be restored, and a new shop/restaurant/admin block built in heritage style across the drive to replace the containers there? Now there's an idea....


  1. A great start to the 2018 blogs. Many thanks. I always find the rail welding process fascinating (albeit from afar!).

  2. Who is paying for the repairs to the bridge; the offending lorry driver's company's insurance (you know who it was, right?), the railway's insurance or the railway's scarce funds? Dratted thoughtless lorry drivers. Great blog, thanks. Richard.

    1. This one is covered by insurance, but many do not leave a calling card, just some pieces of wreckage on the ground.
      Bear in mind also the cost to the railway of having to follow up each case, trying to find who was responsible, arguments, damage inspections etc.

  3. Thanks for the update again, Jo and Happy New Year! Looks like a lot of that ballast that was dropped by P1 needs to be moved to the shoulders rather than on top of the sleepers. Is the plan to try using the Shark or more work by the mini-digger?

    1. The ballast is pretty much off the sleepers, Stevie did a good job with the mini digger. We won't be putting the Shark through the platforms, it's too crude. Maybe the ballast regulator in due course?

  4. Great pictures Jo. That 9YO spotty kid did you proud with the camera! Track creep at this time of year has to be expected with the low temperatures that we have had recently. The wind chill factor alone must have been horrendous.
    Great picture of the booking hall. Looking forward to seeing it bedecked with GWR fares list and advertising. Stourbridge Towns original booking Hall always fascinated me as it had 7 - yes SEVEN - ticket windows. 2 windows to the booking hall, 1 to the original waiting room and 4 to a separate season ticket office opposite to the booking hall windows! I worked at Stourbridge Town BO after the guards and drivers depot at Stourbridge junction closed, albeit Stourbridge Town BO mark 2 and 3. 2 was a portacabin and 3 was a new rebuild that, although looking quite good for a Centro build, would not look out of place in Switzerland! Fortunately, I was allowed to GWRify it somewhat. Regards, Paul.

  5. Another great report and pictures Jo. thanks again for the hard work done by the PW team. Really looking forward to our first visit of the year and to experience the smooth ride on the rails to Broadway.
    Paul & Marion

  6. It's a minor point and in no way is an excuse for drivers who don't know their vehicle height but 4.4 meters is actually 14' 5" or other way round, 14'3" is 4.34 meters - what is the actual height of the bridge?

  7. Yesterday afternoon's 'Father Brown' on BBC1 Murder of the Station Master, had plenty of filming on the railway with Toddington station being shown, with a story line of trying to close the station.

  8. It will help the bridge when it is shown on maps again. Once I came across a lorry that had got stuck under a disused railway bridge, the driver said that he did not know the bridge was there, as it was not shown on the map, otherwise he would have chose another route. They had to let his tyres down to free him.

    1. I think the "Didn't know the bridge was there" excuse rings rather hollow given that there are large warning signs on the B4362 well in advance of the bridge. But then, I think many people seem to drive as if they've got blindfolds on...

      Here's the Google Streetview photo of one of the signs:

    2. It's not that they don't know the bridge was there, it's that they don't know that they are too high. Even with a flashing warning, triggered by a light beam, strikes are only reduced by 1/3, according to an article I saw on the BBC.
      I personally witnessed two strikes in the last 24 months, both flatbeds with a load.
      Returning from Broadway today, I met a skip lorry with 3 empty skips on it. This is the sort of traffic that does the damage. Most of it is local too.

  9. Now the welding,has been done,you can get on,with the fettling,and ballasting!.I,suppose the trouble with lorry drivers,is that they just follow their sat navs!Which just tell you,the shortest route!.Myself?.I've never had one!.What is your project for the next couple of months?. Anthony.

  10. Happy New Year to everyone an hearty congratulations on your magnificent achievement. This should be headline news, not only in the railway press but also on national and local media. See you in Honeybourne.

    1. If you have £5 million, I'll see you in Honeybourne, otherwise, sadly, no chance!

    2. Share Issue? Grants? Donations.? Community and Business involvement ? Larded by good PR. At least GWSR is cheaper than National Rail!

    3. An extension to Honeybourne (around 5 miles I believe) would give the GWSR a possible main line connection. It is a logical "conclusion" to the Railway's rebirth as a heritage line. However, the exam question must be: What's the return on investment? How many through trains would we attract from the National Network? Would we achieve a significant growth in traffic? etc. In a country where many people cannot save money due to increased cost of living, rent and so on, the chances of achieving a massive share issue are, I would suggest, too risky. A third party investment might be another matter but it begs the question, what's in it for me? The GWSR will need to invest in existing infrastructure and stock - the lack of a secure carriage shed is scary - too many heritage lines have suffered damaged or burnt out rolling stock, we can't afford to lose it. Another 5 miles of track means 10 miles of fencing and 5 miles of culverts. I would love to see race specials from Paddington coming to CRC on our line but I won't be around to see it if ever it happens.

    4. Offer a regular commuter service over the line from Cheltenham to Honeybourne twice a day using modern stock

    5. Well I'm 52 and I certainly DO hope the railway gets to Honeybourne in my lifetime! Its more realistic than hoping to get in to Cheltenham anyway. If £5m is the going rate, think of it as a 10 year plan to rise £500,000 per year (not starting straight away of course). Probably wouldn't raise that amount every year but use it as a target. With the opening of Broadway, Im expecting an upturn in passenger numbers, ticket sales, merchandise, catering etc and whilst accepting that there will be increased costs, I would hope for a significant increase in profits at least for the first couple of years. We all have our dreams!

    6. I'm keen for the railway to expand, but I think for the next few years the best thing to do would be to improve the line as it is, rather than go all-out for another lengthy extension.

      Even when Broadway opens, it won't be complete. The footbridge steps, platform 1 canopy extension, platform 2 building, signalling and possibly extra trackwork (the south end sidings, postponed due to financial constraints) are all still to construct. I'd like to get rid of those horrible containers at the north end of platform 1, and replace them with something more period-style, too. So there's still a lot to do...

      Then there's a desperate need for a carriage shed, and improvements and maintenance all along the line. Of course, as the line gets longer, the maintenance requirement gets bigger. That's an issue in itself.

      There are plenty of places along the line where work is required, not least at the Kayte Lane bridge at Southam, where a landowner has dug into the cutting bank and moved his fence onto railway land - thus stealing railway property.

      Frankly, I'm surprised the GWR seems happy to give away its land to any dodgy neighbour who feels like taking it. And given the problems we've had with slips along the line, I think it's totally unacceptable to allow random people to dig away at the earthworks. There's an obvious safety issue there.

      So that's one thing I think should get some attention. The railway should police and maintain its boundaries far better than it does at present. After all, if the railway can't keep its fences secure over the present length of line, that doesn't bode well for any extensions.

      Having said all that, one new project I would like to see is a station at Bishop's Cleeve. The original station site came up for sale recently, and I believe the Board put in an offer but were not successful. However, there's enough room alongside the line for a new station to be built just south of the original site.

      I think this should be seriously considered. Bishop's Cleeve has grown into a sizeable town over the last few decades, and it doesn't make any sense for the railway to ignore this potential source of passengers.

      I think the people of Bishop's Cleeve would welcome some general improvements to the railway environment, too. At present it's all grim, grey security fencing - Broadway got the posh green version!

      The other potential new project which I think could go ahead relatively easily is an extension southward to Pittville Park. The GWR owns the trackbed (in fact there's track in place to the south portal of Hunting Butts Tunnel) and a station at Pittvile would be much more convenient for Cheltenham itself, being within walking distance of the town centre. The GWR would gain something it doesn't quite have at the moment - a genuine destination at the south end of the line.

      Aside from that I think it would be a very good idea for the GWR to establish a presence at the south end of its property. Here, as at Kayte Lane, fences have been removed and the earthworks dug away, not least by the developers who built the new housing estate just west of the line at Pittville.

      I think the developers tried to 'landscape' the railway embankment. I'd like to know if they did this with the knowledge and permission of the GWR - and who is responsible if the embankment slips onto all those new houses.

    7. Well, at your age, I think you have a very good chance of living to see a return to Honeybourne ! I agree a return to Cheltenham is impossible for the foreseeable future.

      Jo Roesen has very patiently explained the massive amount of work involved in extending from Broadway to Honeybourne. As he reminds us, it's not just a matter of clearing some vegetation and relaying the track ! Would that it were so simple.

      It might be possible to raise the money for the extension over a ten year period. I would like to think so, but we must not forget in our enthusiasm that the GWSR already has a railway to run, and is heavily committed to present projects, not the least of which is ongoing maintenance along the whole line.

      I'm very sorry if my reply sounds didactic. I didn't mean it to.

      Anyway, at my age, I'm afraid it will remain a dream. Well, I suppose there's no harm in an old man dreaming.

      Good luck to you young things in the future !

      Peter Wright

  11. I think the bridge strike problem really needs to be solved once and for all.

    Simply waiting for the next accident to happen, and then closing the railway and/or the road while damage is assessed and repaired, is not a viable long-term strategy.

    On the Broadway Station blog I read that the B4362 will be closed for six weeks, while the latest damage to the bridge is fixed. If extended closures like this become a regular event, we can say goodbye to any goodwill from the people of Broadway.

    And if trains to Broadway are continually cancelled due to bridge strikes the GWR will very quickly gain a reputation as 'The unreliable line in the Cotswolds'.

    There's also the sheer cost of continually repairing the bridge - and the risk that one day a major impact might cause damage serious enough fo it to require replacement.

    I don't think we can necessarily assume that insurance will always cover repair costs. If the insurance company thinks no action has been taken to prevent the problem they may eventually decide not to pay up - or at least make continuing coverage conditional on some sort of impact protection being put in place. In any case, you can bet the premiums are going to increase with every crash.

    The present strategy seems to amount to 'wait for the accident, close everything down for repairs, then wait for the next accident....repeat indefinitely'. That strikes me as a very expensive way of not addressing the issue.

    I think we should address the issue!

    1. I think the insurance company that is paying up is the haulier's insurance, not the GSWR's. It would probably be worthwhile putting some high definition CCTV cameras either side of the bridge (with a digital recorder) to help in identifying the culprits (the sort of thing used for shop security cameras). This is a common problem worldwide - take a look at Youtube - search for "11foot8" to see how they have protected a bridge with a substantial metal beam capable of stripping off the top of a truck. However, I am not sure that there is enough room to install anything quite that big on Station Road, never mind the cost of the thing! Perhaps the roadway should just be lowered by a metre or so???

    2. The trouble with CCTV cameras is that they only provide a means of catching the culprit after the damage is done. What we want to do is to stop the bridge strikes from happening altogether.

      I'm not sure that lowering the road would be a simple solution. It might mean rerouting services buried under the road - in the case of sewers that might require a completely new pipe route, to maintain the fall of the pipe and thus the flow of the sewage. And, of course, if the road level is lowered, that effectively makes the foundations of the bridge abutments shallower. All of a sudden you're looking at some serious civil engineering...

      I think the best solution is a couple of 'bash beams' (that does seem to be the technical term) either side of the bridge. A steel beam of some sort, across the road just in front of the bridge. This gives over-height vehicles something to hit that's not the bridge itself.

      The beams could be freestanding or bracketed off the side walls of the bridge. There's a good example in this Daily Mail article. The first photo clearly shows the lorry has not actually hit the bridge - it's hit the bash beam in front of the bridge. The train on the bridge shows that the line was able to remain open:

      I think something like this is really the only effective solution for Broadway. Sure, it would cost money, but I don't think there's a cheap answer. It would certainly be a better solution than simply waiting for bridge strikes to happen, cancelling trains, and losing revenue and reputation.

    3. Many thanks for the post.

      At the moment, there appears to be no proper law enforcement with regard to the careless and negligent drivers who are ignoring the valid road sign which prohibits loads of more than 14ft 3ins.

      Why is this ? I would not get away with ignoring "Give Way" signs whenever I felt like.

      I've not driven for years, I'm glad to say. And these days, too many drivers are of an anarchic mindset.

      I think Michael Johnson's suggestion about installing "bash beams" to protect the bridge seems to be the only solution, provided the GWSR takes sound legal advice first.

      The railway would not wish to find itself incurring liability of any sort. Equally, things can't just be left like this.

      I would say urgent consultation with the Highways authority is the first step. They (presumably) authorised the road closure for repairs to the bridge. Fine, but they can't keep on closing the road indefinitely !

      But what a business, when you've already got more than enough to do on the railway. (Not forgetting the high winds and the cold weather which you are all bravely working in.)

      Very well done with all the good work

      Peter Wright

    4. The Spa Valley Railway also had a serious bridge strike earlier in 2017. This situation is far from unique to the GWSR bridges and is a fact of life for both heritage railways and the National Network. I regret to say that we will have to learn to put up with it. Several Network Rail bridges are protected with "bash beams" and they do help in many respects. However, you will never stop the "contracted bloke in a hurry with one more JCB to deliver" I used to live close to the ECML by the A52 in Lincolnshire which had the dubious honour of being the most struck bridge on the Network, the road would be closed or blocked on average about once very 2 weeks although the bridge was struck much more often than that, usually by a truck with an exotic Eastern European number plate. Basically bridge strikes will be with us until everything goes by rail, which will never happen. We will, regrettably, need to do what Network Rail does, suck it up.

  12. Surely the way is if the highway authority closed this section of the road to commercial vehicles over a certain height with penalties and fines for drivers who do not obey

    1. Yes, Steve Cherry' suggestion is very good, but it comes back to the question of enforcement. Who would enforce such a ban ?
      And without adequate law enforcement, any number of road signs, prohibitions, traffic restriction signs, or what have you, are a waste of time.

      Not to change the subject, but where on earth do all these heavy goods vehicles come from and go to ? Where in Broadway is there an industrial estate ? I thought it was a peaceful place with the heaviest traffic coming from tourists who like to visit this pretty village. Why did they build the by-pass, if not to keep heavy traffic out of Broadway ? I don't understand.

  13. Bridge strikes are very depressing. Here is a story for 2018 that won’t solve the problem but you may find it interesting.
    Many, many years ago (the 70’s) I was charged with the responsibility of navigating a lorry from Wiltshire to Toulouse. As export manager I was trying to get maximum profit by not using a low loader. The CEO was not impressed, hence the job. We were carrying a huge, circular steel platform, loaded on a trailer in two halves, part of a rotary milking parlour. On the top deck of the ferry from Southampton we parked alongside a truck carrying the wings for an anglo-french jet to Aerospatiale. His load, fitted under the autoroute bridges, ours did not. But over a beer we bet him we could clear customs before he did at Toulouse. We were using the detailed Michelin maps that show the bridges but not their heights!
    First stop, Tours, at an impossibly low bridge and a little, white haired man driving a battered Citroen took us on a guided tour round the suburbs. Approaching Poitiers I noticed thick black lines on the map in the middle of the roads. Trolley bus wires. We visually had to check how far below them we were. About a foot. We got to Brive and a big solid stone low bridge. I knocked up the local gendarmerie and interrupted an alcoholic game of cards in a smoke filled room. They were so surprised (the French police have a different view of the public) they gave us a police car escort around the hills and out of Brive. Then finally one last bridge by the Agricultural College at Purpan, a village outside Toulouse. The driver and I took the safety chains off the top of the steel to creep under, clearing it by a few centimetres.
    We beat the aircraft lorry to customs. He booked into a posh hotel on expenses while we drove through the night.
    English exports to France to milk their cows. Last Happy New Year before Brexit.
    Mike Rose

  14. If the Evesham Road leading under the railway bridge was legally of of bounds to certain commercial vehicles it would have the same respect as no entry signs, but there is always NPR cameras, even our local council refuge tip has one, greeting you with your registration on a screen as you enter. They won't have to touch the bridge before committing a offence. A sign could warn them to turn round before getting a ticket

    1. Is no one else going to reply to Steve Cherry ?, He has clearly been giving the matter much thought, and raises useful points which ought to be addressed. Has no one got anything to say in reply ? Then I will.

      These drivers, in common with many other drivers, have no respect for any signs, be it "Give Way", No Entry", "No access to Road Vehicles", "No Parking", "Disabled Parking : Blue Badge Holders Only", and so on and so forth.

      "They won't have to touch the bridge before committing an offence", says Steve. Well, with existing signage, this is already the case ! There is simply no one willing or able to enforce it. Not just at Broadway, but at various locations across the entire nation.

      In this age of the smartphone, and digital photography, it beggars belief that no local resident is able to capture a picture of the culprit red handed. But no one seems willing to speak up, show their evidence, or, if necessary, give evidence in court as an eye witness.

      These bridge strikes do not all take place at the dead of night when there are no witnesses. Therefore, I must presume people are afraid to speak out. Why ? Whom are you all afraid of ? The Mafia ? This is England, not Sicily. But "omerta" or the code of silence seems to have caught on even here, these days. Pass by on the other side of the street. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. It's not my business. Etc. How else do you explain almost daily physical attacks on people taking place in busy city centres in broad daylight ?

      No, I'm sorry Steve, but in these anarchic times, I'm afraid you are wasting your time.

      Sorry, but there it is.

      Peter Wright

  15. I am surprised at readers comments who seem to assume the GWSR Board is not doing anything. Whilst in no way involved I do know that the problem and possible solutions (and costs) are being very carefully considered.

  16. See John Baldestone's comments (our Bridge Engineer) on the Station Blog

  17. I'm sorry if I've rocked the boat with certain people. I'm sure the GWSR board are doing all they can and my comments are in no way any criticism, just voicing my thoughts on the problem of the bridge strikes, I know any action will involve other bodies such as the council which a solution would also be in there interest and would
    appreciate not having strike debris to clear and periodically road closures.
    Being a keen supporter and shareholder I am deeply concerned. Setting aside feasibility and cost which I do no know anything about, I have not heard anyone else mention using NPR cameras and instead of waiting for them to hit the bridge, what about stopping them before hand, there is more chance they will be spotted, photographed and identified in the few minutes before hand when they have crossed the threshold of the approucha, than the spit second of the strike. Thank you Peter Wright for your comments.

    1. A Crash Protection Barrier is the current preferred option, to take the hit before the bridge does. John B gives more details in the Station Blog. It is a very difficult problem as we all agree.

  18. Ask local Police to do a few checks of vehicles coming unde the bridge every now and then. A tea/coffee from the station cafe for them wouldn’t go a miss. ��

    1. Another thoughtful comment from Steve Cherry I can't see how anything he has said could possibly be construed as criticism of the GWSR. I am not critical of the GWSR, either. It is not their fault that these careless drivers so easily escape the consequences.

      It is a national problem. And it is au fond a matter of law enforcement. When the law is not enforced, it is useless to say anything.

      I feel very sorry for the GWSR.

      I will say no more.


  19. any news on the cafe and the drive/station resurfacing at Broadway 🍴👺