Saturday 4 January 2020

Work starts at Stanway

Friday on the viaduct

An early call to arms came, to get an extra day in for lifting the track off the viaduct, in preparation for drainage works to be undertaken on it by a contractor.

Eight volunteers made it, which is an excellent turnout, given the midweek day and short notice.

We loaded a lot of equipment into the two Landies, you never know what you might need, and the Stanway viaduct is kinda in the middle of nowhere. It's a mile from the nearest road, and you can't just go and get the rail saw when you suddenly need it.

Near the viaduct we built up a pallet with sides and trollied it out to the site.

Steve had a good go at releasing all the fishplates, and we were lucky that none of the bolts were seized (we had brought the rail saw just in case).

Nigel provides a helpful boot to stop the bolt heads from spinning. You can't do this job on your own.

A small group went on ahead and knocked out the Pandrol clips. There are over 100 of them in each length, so that's a lot of knocking, then bending down to pick up the loose clips and walk them to the pallet on the trolley.

The viaduct has 9 panels of track on it, and our job was to remove 11 in total, with two extra ones at each end.

The viaduct seemed very long, but the weather got sunnier and sunnier and before we knew it, the de-clipping had reached the far side.

The 60 foot lengths of rail were taken out and stacked at opposite ends of the viaduct.

Lunch was very pleasant. Picnic only, it's a long walk back to transport and then back to Winchcombe. In the lee of the parapet and in the sunshine it's perfectly do-able to sit and eat outside. Unless you sat on a rail; there's a lot of cold built up in a ton of steel and your bottom is not warm enough to absorb it all.

'D' marks the spot - here is one of the drains that the contractor will be uncovering. There's one for each arch, and currently all the drainage pits are buried under the track, which is one of the things that the contractor will remedy. We need to be able to visit the drains regularly and make sure that they are working. As things are today, and because the tops are buried, that is not possible.

At the end of the day we were well over half way, with a second day of work arranged for Saturday.

Saturday at Stanway.

Lots of work to do today, to dry and clear the remaining pieces of track from the top of the viaduct. We've got half the rails still to remove, and all the sleepers.

Luckily the turnout was quite good - 14 of us.

The first thing to do was scrounge round the yard to find all the bearers we could muster, for the 260 or so sleepers we will need to store.

John here already has an armful.

But what are those two gang members doing in the metal recycling skip?

Here we are at the start of the job, lifting up the first of the sleepers at the northern end. We're going to be putting them in two +/- equal piles at opposite ends of the viaduct. That gives us more flexibility when it comes to relaying everything.

We tried a couple of different methods for lifting out the sleepers. This is the 'scoop 'em out' method, where the Telehandler digs in to retrieve half a dozen or so, but all intermingled with ballast.

A cleaner method was to lift them out by hand, and put them into small stacks, ready for the Telehandler to remove. That made things a lot easier for the stacking team. But then again much harder for the lifters, as each of the 260 odd sleepers had to be lifted manually with nips.

Between deliveries, the stackers could ponder the meaning of life. Dave in the distance was picking up the next load with the Telehandler.

Here's the sleeper removal team.

You can see how they pulled the sleepers out with nips, and then stacked them in a small pile in the foreground, for an easy pick up by Dave.

Hard work though.

Having picked up a load, Dave the reversed down the bridge, round the pile of rails and on to the growing stack in the distance.

As the day progressed the sun came out, but the sky remained moody and inky clouds swirled around over the site.

This is the view towards Stanton, where the fresh ballast is stored for the drainage job on the viaduct.

Soon we had a respectable length of cleared trackbed.

The drainage pits of interest to the maintenance job (starting in a week's time) are right in the middle, underneath where Steve is walking here. they are currently buried under the ballast, but were visible when this was double track.

At the southern end we set up the second temporary storage site. Half of the rails have already been placed here, and the second sleeper pile is about to be built a little beyond the stop block on the end of the north carriage siding out of Toddington.

After we had stored about half of the sleepers at the northern end, we moved to the southern end to join the gang there that was also just starting the same job.

It looked for a while as if this could stretch into a third day, but with the whole gang concentrating on the second half of the sleepers, we suddenly accelerated.

We had two teams now on the same job - Dave in the Telehandler and stacking, with a second team lifting out sleepers and making stacks of 8, even 12, for him to take straight away.

Behind us to the north, about 50 sleepers left to lift, and further on, the second half of the viaduct, now completely cleared.

The sky continued to look angry, but it spared us, we remained dry and despite the clouds overhead, often in the sun in the latter half of the day.

The same stretch of remaining sleepers, now looking south. Stevie in the JCB and a team of 4 pull out and stack the sleepers, roughly in the middle of this big, 15 arch viaduct.

Nearly there now, as Nigel directs Dave in the Telehandler to come nearer, so that we can load him up. Then all he has to do is drive it to the storage stack at the south end.

Tim, Pete and Peter enjoy the moment of fame.
And here we are, the last sleeper. We did it after all! Everything removed in two working days. Mind, it won't be that fast when we have to put it all together again.

Now to tidy up and drive home. The sun has dropped behind the horizon, and light will now fade quickly. Just the tools to collect, and the convoy will head back home.

Now it's over to the bridge gang to use the space that we have created for them. We will be moving to the southern end of Greet tunnel for our next project.


  1. Lucky it wasn't CWR! (Do any of the CWR sections of the GWSR include things where one might want to temporarily lift the rail?)


    1. In fact the northern CWR section starts just beyond the viaduct.

      At Bishops Cleeve we had to cut the CWR to repair a culvert a few years back, then weld it up again. The cut was rather unspectacular, no loud 'twang' at all.

  2. A shame the P'way train couldn't have been organised to be stabled in the north siding for a bit for you guys, you deserve a warm messroom after all that hard work!

  3. Well done on the track lift. An amazing feat doing the whole viaduct in just 2 days!
    Regards, Paul.

  4. The guys did a wonderful job in two days

  5. If the drains are positioned in what was the 6 foot between the up & down lines, would it be feasible to lay the single line to one side or the other on the viaduct to expose the drains? That is what the Bluebell did on Imberhorne viaduct.,-0.0238672,51m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x47df58434716977f:0xbbc01566a55eaa4f!8m2!3d51.128742!4d-0.014468

  6. Yes it would be interesting to know why the track on a double track viaduct is not on one side. Is it because of the effect of the weight constantly on one side causing negative effects on the viaduct itself or something else?

    1. The position of the track on Stanway viaduct has been debated since at least 2003.

      AFAIK the GWSR was the first to re-lay a single track on to a double track viaduct, so this pioneer role didn't make for an easy decision.

      AFAIK there is no clear engineering argument for its position in the middle. It was thought right at the time.

    2. Best double track the whole section, less debate then! ;)

    3. The GWSR wasn't the first railway to lay single track over a double track viaduct. That's been done many times over the years, in many different locations.

      The earliest example I can think of is Crumlin Viaduct in South Wales, which was built for double track but was singled in 1927.

      As a cast iron structure Crumlin Viaduct is probably not directly comparable, but elsewhere there are other examples of double track masonry viaducts which now carry single track - for example, St Pinnock Viaduct in Cornwall, and Ribblehead Viaduct on the Settle-Carlisle line.

      In all these cases the single track was laid in the middle of the trackbed. Here's the Google aerial photo of Ribblehead Viaduct, with the position of the single track clearly visible:,-2.3712436,116m/data=!3m1!1e3

      Single track over a double-track viaduct isn't even particularly rare in the world of heritage railways. For example, the East Lancashire Railway has single track on the Roch Valley viaduct, the Bluebell Railway has single track over Imberhorne viaduct, the Great Central Railway has single track on the Stanford on Soar viaduct, and the Severn Valley Railway has single track on the Falling Sands viaduct.

      Interestingly, in the first three examples the single track is laid on one side of the formation. The SVR's Falling Sands viaduct has the single track in the middle.

      Whatever position is decided upon for the track, there must be a wealth of information available about the advantages and disadvantages of this or that layout. It's been done so many times before, in every possible variation, that it surely must be possible to make an informed decision.

  7. Do you have to mark the track, so it goes back in the same order as removal?

  8. When discussing this matter with a Network Rail engineer on a day's working with the GWSR Drainage dept a few years back, the ideal would be to have double track over the viaduct with correct way working, i.e. 'up' trains and 'down' trains using the correct path across the viaduct therefore equaling out the weight/forces on the structure beneath.
    In the real world, due to our viaduct being on a curve, the best solution would be to have the single running line on the inside curve, thus any weight/forces spread through the centre to the outside curve.
    If the track was placed solely on the outside curve, all the weight/forces would be directed to the outside extremities of the structure.... unbalanced forces. Of course there is a complication to this layout here, as the North Head shunt would interfere with the proper alignment at the southern end of the viaduct....unless it was shortened. Perhaps when the GWSR is in a position financially to build a first class carriage shed at Winchcombe then this could be a possibility.
    One to put on the 'to-do' in the distant future list.

    Andy P.