Tuesday 15 December 2015

Ballasting the new track

A start was made today with ballasting the first 200m of new track laid. We have 6 Dogfish, and these were filled at our  ballast depot at Stanton and brought out by the class 73.

The train was pushed carefully over the headshunt beyond the loop, and then on to the new track laid, up to the footpath crossing at the start of the curve in the distance.

On board the 'SHARK' brake van, Steve and Rick are discussing today's  planned manoeuvres. Behind them you can see the recently repaired embankment on the left, and the reinstated track immediately in front. This forms part of the Laverton Loop headshunt, a piece of track that will need to be replaced as part of the extension works.

A bit further along, it is easier to see the difference between the temporary headshunt, and the start of new track laying.

The headshunt this side of the loop was roughly laid around 2011 in a slightly lighter rail, which will be replaced with the standard rail we are using for the definite extension. There is no ballast at all here, so we progress very gingerly.

The ballast train is parked so that the first Dogfish is on the start of the curve. A full hopper will treat 1 1/2 track panels, so we need to be about 10 panels away from the start, and work back.

The other way, in the curve towards Broadway, is at this point not quite ready to receive ballast, as there are still some remains from the welding crews in the four foot, and a number of sleepers at each weld need repositioning and straightening.

With the train stationary, the plough is lowered, and all the centre doors on the Dogfish are opened at once. Some of the ballast falls out, but is soon stopped by the pile that builds up underneath. The train is then pulled over the stretch that needs ballasting. You can see this here:

This is the view from the rear - all the ballast has been dropped, and the SHARK plough has pushed the excess over the rails and outside the sleeper ends. In the distance the newly laid track curves to the right towards Little Buckland, and Broadway beyond. The embankment has been cleared, and there is new fencing down both sides. A lot of work and expense has already gone into this area, but is not well known about.

Looking the other way, towards Laverton Loop, we can see the temporary headshunt undulating in the weeds. The empty train will now return to Stanton for refilling with fresh ballast, which takes about 2 hours.

The small gang of 5 today take this 2 hour gap to prepare the next piece for ballasting, the curve towards Little Buckland.

After the sleepers have been checked and adjusted for positioning, the alignment is improved by little tweaks with the JCB here and there.

One guy doing, two guys giving orders - well, isn't it always like that ?

Dave and Peter point which way the track has to move. Many times they agreed with each other too.

Behind them is the piece that was ballasted an hour earlier.

With the curve reasonably kink free, we sat down for a brief lunch. Not a good place to do this, here. The wind whistled down off the Cotswolds today, and the ice cold rail, when sat upon, has an amazing ability to soak all the heat out of your backside.

Meanwhile, back at Stanton, the train has been refilled with fresh ballast. Unfortunately we lost our loco driver in the afternoon, so this drop on the curve will be for another day.

The JCB then moved up to Little Buckland to clear the area, just south of the bridge, where a pipe running through the embankment has to be replaced, as it has collapsed in the middle. Another one of those unseen jobs, but they have to be done. Good working drainage is crucial on this line along the Cotswold edge.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

The welders are back

Haigh Rail have come back to weld up the 16 lengths we laid on the 400 sleepers.

It was a blustery day, with an almost cloudless sky. What you don't see in the picture was the short but very wet downburst at lunchtime, which the lucky few sat out in the backs of their vans. Not every crew was so lucky!

There are about 30 welds to be done on this stretch, and today saw two thirds of the job completed - they will be back tomorrow morning to finish off the rest.

These two pictures show the gang cutting a rail end off to achieve the correct welding gap, and the second shows the rail grinder being used to smooth off the excess after a hydraulic cutter has taken off the worst bits. Long views across the Evesham vale extend into the background.

One  of these hydraulic cutters can be seen in the foreground here, with a second weld waiting to be done on the left. Other welds that have been done are represented by the silver tubs that stretch out into the distance. These are the remains of the single use crucibles that most of the teams were using (there were several on site today). Little Buckland bridge is in the distance where the silver car is parked. The space without sleepers includes the area of a broken drainage pipe that passes under the trackbed, and which needs replacing by digging out. Any further sleeper laying will be limited by the hole that will be dug there for a while.

Looking the other way, we can see the team in action that started at the Laverton end of the 16 lengths. In the distance is the PWay relaying train, and nearer to the camera is the multi use crucible in action, temporarily turned to one side while the blow torch heats up the rail ends with the characteristic 'Vee' of exhausting flames.

The crucible is then swung into place, and lit - stand well clear ! A little mini-volcano at work.

This shows the northern end of the rail welding job, with Andy Smith of the PWay gang in discussion with one of the crews. A small number of PWay volunteers is needed to accompany the crews to provide logistical support, and tidy up the site afterwards.

Here is what you get after welding say 20 joints. Lots of empty single use crucibles, left over blocks of molten Aluminium, bits of excess molten steel, foundry sand, sharp bits of wire and packaging material. Just about  a van full today - well done Andy for clearing all this up. It will be sorted at Winchcombe to go into a skip or be recycled where practical.

The flail was at work again and has made great progress. The stretch up to Little Buckland is now done, and most of the next stretch to Broadway seems clear now too. Great stuff!

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Contract clearance

Once again, activity could be seen down the trackbed from Broadway today, and a quick tour of inspection after completing a job on the SB tunnel roof showed that a 360 equipped with a flail was busy on the Cotswold side embankment just north of Pry Lane bridge.

In fact the contractor, employed to make the shape of the embankment north of Little Buckland visible for inspection, had alread cleared quite a stretch of the Malvern side, and was working his way back south. On the right of the picture is the sewage works at the end of Pry Lane, Malvern side.

The machine is a regular 360 excavator, fitted with a special flail attachment. With the wing wall of Pry lane bridge just visible on the right, we see the machine here repeatedly dropping the flail on to the brushwood and reducing it to tiny bits.

Yours truly once helped to clear a modest 5m stretch of this embankment to reveal a culvert below, and can testify to the difficulty of standing on a 45 degree slope of rolling ballast, and dragging prickly bits of Hawthorn back to the top. This machine is a Godsend.

On seeing us approach with great caution, the driver of the machine paused to let us nearer, and stopped briefly to tell us a bit more about the job.

This flail attachment is a very modern piece of kit, with an up to the minute piece of design. The teeth are tipped in tungsten steel, but nonetheless a couple have already lost the battle with tough pieces of ancient Brunel bridge rail hidden in the undergrowth.

Telegraph pole guy rope holders left in the ground after the demolition train were initially also an enemy of the flail, but the learning curve has been steep and the operator now knows where to expect them every 50 yards, even if invisible in the bramble.

The teeth are of course replaceable, being bolted on. But not cheap.

A peep across Pry lane bridge shows that most of the Malvern side has already been done, here revealing a wooden PWay hut that is asking to become someone's pet project for attention.

Looking back towards Broadway, the Malvern side is clear but for some more recent growth near the Childswickham Road bridge (this area has already been cleared once, but the self seeded trees quickly regrow). Broadway goods shed is in the middle.

A final picture from the PWay gang yesterday - they were out with a ballast train and dropped +/- 100 tons of ballast at Gotherington in support of the maintenance tamping that has taken place in that area. The dropped ballast was then 'sharked' using this 'Shark' brake van to distribute it evenly along the line using a specially shaped plough slung under the van. The big wheel in the foreground (after many, many turns) drops the plough down to rail level, and, eventually, back up. A wonderful piece of Victoriana, and still useful today. We are a museum after all. The bridge in the picture is 'Working Lane' bridge, a charming name and one which refers to the nearby former the navvy village at the southern end of Greet tunnel.

On the extension side welding of rail lengths recently laid is due to take place next week, while at Skew Bridge at Gotherington a further pile of 400 sleepers is being extracted, sorted and stacked, ready for loading and transport to Little Buckland.