Saturday 25 February 2017

Ballast and sleepers

Doris took a pill and calmed down again; we continued on the Childswickham embankment on Friday.

As you can see, we're actually quite close to the bridge now. Today would be a mixed day - lengthen the ballast bed until the current roll of Terram ran out, then run more loads into further away areas that need a bit more, down by Pry Lane bridge.

Coming back empty, this is the view from the dumper as we are about to leave the ballast bed.

On the left, the rails from Laverton, waiting to be further dragged to Broadway, northern end.

With the storm gone, an new and rather unexpected challenge presented itself - flies! There were zillions of them, all around the dumper (because it is coloured yellow? No joke, last year, they were interested in the hi-viz vest of a contractor). The only way out was to get on board through the swarm with gritted teeth, and press the pedal firmly against the metal. They can't fly that fast.

Next to adding extra ballast down by Pry Lane bridge, we also decided to clear away some tree stumps that had been put to one side during the trackbed clearance. We've got the dumper on hire for a while now, so we might as well use it as much as possible.

Tree stumps cleared, Steve went back to grading the area around the bridge, where we tipped 6 loads earlier the same day.

The wind's gone, but it's still dusty - see to the right of the JCB.

The new ballast deliveries always come very first thing in the morning, as early as 5am. So this one at 4 o'clock in the afternoon caught us a bit off guard. Got to look busy too, that's the PWay dept. head just arriving for a look-see. We ended the day 57 yards from the bridge, so everyone was happy with that.

Next week we've got a few odd jobs to sort out - it's not all about tipping ballast and laying rails - but they all involve the dumper. However, each job, whatever its nature, gets us that bit closer to our goal. We know what, but we don't know when and where yet, so will leave the description to the day we know when we kick off. Keep tuning in therefore.

Given the fine weather on Friday, here's another 'pretty picture', taken in that half hour when the sun shines down the station trackbed.

Saturday gang.
Today, Saturday, was a normal day for the PWay Saturday gang. We split into two groups.
The largest took to further ballasting the repositioned Winchcombe turnout, something that can't be done by dropping a Dogfish on to it, and is thus very labour intensive. Individual ballast loads have to be pushed from the station foot crossing up to the turnout on a trolley, by hand, unloaded by hand, and packed by hand. It's a gruelling job.

A second, smaller gang of 3 took the Landie and the Telehandler to Skew Bridge at Gotherington, where our sleeper depot is located. There isn't much to see there, except a massive pile of concrete.

The Landie is a road-railer, so took off by rail to pick up 6 sleepers that were in the 4 foot by the Royal Oak. This was a tidying up excercise, but the sleepers themselves would prove useful at Skew Bridge.

Trundling down the line, this is the view of the long straight coming out of Greet tunnel. In the distance you can see the unusual tower of Christ Church, Gretton.

Here's the sleeper depot at Skew Bridge. The Landie has brought up the 6 wooden sleepers, while the Telehandler is sorting out sleepers from the far pile into tidy stacks in the foreground.

These sleepers were deposited here rather hastily many years ago, so are today in rather a jumble.

Each sleeper has to be prised out carefully and inspected for damage - we have quite a few rejects. This entire pile is due to be used on the extension to Broadway.

Once one or more sleepers have been carefully prised loose, they are brought to a sorting area in the foreground. Here the failures are extracted and stacked elsewhere (we can still use them to build ballast retaining walls for example) and sets of 4 good ones are then stacked in piles of 20, ready for loading on to the bogie flats.

This is the 'ready' pile. Over 350 sleepers are in this stack, and a pair of bogie flats can take 320. We are now awaiting a window to bring up the empty flats, so that they can be loaded and taken out to Peasebrook.
Ideally, we would like to resume sleeper laying next Saturday, if logistics permit this. The Winchcombe relay is pretty much done from a track laying perspective, and we are now awaiting the return of the tamper, prior to the resumption of services next week already. Where does a winter maintenance season go....

Thursday 23 February 2017

Doris Day

Today was Doris day.  60mph winds were forecast for Broadway, for 3 hours around noon. What would that mean to us, could we work, could we venture out on to the tall embankment at Childswickham?

Oh well, Que sera, sera....  we shall see. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. Let's go!

Dust was the first thing we noticed, it blew at right angles out of the dumper, each time a bucket full of ballast was dropped in it. At the end of the day, the adjacent embankment was all white with the stuff. Tricky to park you car too, avoiding any tress and the debris they generate (or maybe even a whole tree!)

Here's the opening shot of the day. A load is just going over Childswickham Road bridge, its mission: to reach the 'head of ballast', now not so far way in the distance.

This picture does not tell you the strength of the wind though. Emerging over the bridge onto the tall embankment, there was a fierce blow from right to left, causing some worried glances at the field far below. It is a long way down. We got there OK though, the issue was more a personal one, because as soon as we got off to rearrange the Terram, it tried to blow you over. Doris even ripped at my glasses at one point, but it was a fun challenge. The tricky bit was to roll out the Terram and keep it in place. Eventually a shovel borrowed from Steve did the trick. Roll it out for a yard, throw a shovel full of ballast on the windy side. It only had to stay in place until the 6 tons of ballast had been dropped on to it, the wind couldn't shift that!

More billowing down below in the car park, but in the afternoon the sun came out, which made things a bit more friendly, but it was still like driving through a sandstorm.

In fact we never saw any rain today, what a strange storm. Powerful, but dry. For us, anyway.

The sun came out and allowed some pretty photographs, like this one. But the clouds continued to skid across the sky above.
This picture was taken while turning the dumper, so you can see that the proximity of the ex Laverton Loop rail is starting to interfere with that manoeuvre. But that's good news, isn't it?

Despite Doris, we had a fine day, allowing for the traditional dumper puncture first thing in the morning. A van soon came and mended it - a screw was found in the tyre.
Notice in the picture the row of dark little piles on the left. This is how we kept the Terram down. No rows on the right, that's the lee side, nothing required here.

Initially we were only going to ballast up to the rail, but now we've been asked to go all the way up to the bridge, so that's probably another day's work. The next roll of Terram is also almost used up again - that's another 100yds done.
This is one of the last loads of the day. We are now next to the rail from Laverton, another milestone to which we have been looking forward.

After the final load today, one last look at the worksite. It's straight into the setting sun, so it's a bit black & white. The rail is stacked in 4 piles, one behind the other, and we have started tipping next to the second pile.

Tomorrow we should complete up to the bridge. Then we have to go back over what we have already laid and tip additional loads here and there where the levelling by Steve in the JCB has revealed low spots. We'd rather tip a bit less than a bit more intially, as ballast is expensive and we don't want to waste it. It needs to be just thick enough for the tamper tynes not to reach through to the Terram from above.

Once this job is finished, we shall leapfrog the goods shed area (subject to forthcoming embankment works) and go to Springfield Lane, where a large trackbed area needs raising before the first yards of track can be laid on it. All this will need dumpering in, so will it be 'Dusty' Springfield?

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Music, Maestro!

A day of three movements today, in a musical theme:

Work on ballasting the extension has resumed! Great news. Kick-off at 08.30 this morning in the Broadway lower car park, for a day of ballast dumpering.

Stevie back from holiday, a dumper hired in, ballast ordered and coming in fast - we are go !

If you've been paying attention at the back there, you'll remember that we left the 'head of ballast' about 200 yds short of the Childswickham Road bridge just before Christmas.

On a drizzley morning, this was the view first thing. No ballast bed visible yet, looking south from the Childswickham Road bridge. Ex Laverton FB rail is stacked on the right, ready to be dragged through Broadway to make a start of the northern headshunt and surrounding pointwork.

In the previous two months, despite the Winchcombe relay, Steve has had the time to grade all the ballast piles we left for him on the Terram.

It looks so good, that, seen looking north near the old PWay hut,  you'd think that we were already there. This bit is just about ready for track laying.

However, our first 6 drops were at Peasebrook, where some dips round the bridge needed sorting.

This in fact is the 'head of ballast', half way between Pry Lane  and Childswickham Road bridges. It was out of sight in the previous picture, so we are not there yet.
New rolls of Terram have been positionedt, ready to roll out. Each one gives you 100m.


We finished dropping at Peasebrook and started on extending the head of ballast, when a call came to assist with a ballast dropping train at Winchcombe. This gave Steve the chance to sort out the two dips at Peasebrook, while the drop at Winchcombe was executed.
Here is the PWay ballast train, with 6 brimming Dogfish, awaiting its operators at Winchcombe. Lee and Neil discuss how the drop will take place.

After dropping off two bogie flats destined for sleeper loading, the ballast train is moved up to the south end of platform 2, and the last Dogfish placed precisely, so that only the voids are filled when we set off, doors open.

Very undesirable is any ballast dropping into the pointwork, which has already been ballasted by hand.

How far will the one wagonload go?

With its sweeping tyre in place under the plough, the grinding and screetching train slowly sets off towards the turnout, watched by a philosophical member of the S&T gang, which is connecting up the two new starter signals.

Right on cue at the end of the panel of plain track, the wagon we opened runs out. Phew! The Shark has followed on behind and levelled/spread the ballast further out. The void is quite deep here.

Here is the drop just effected, seen from the balcony of the Shark. Doesn't it look neat? On the right is the platform 1 road, where a second wagon load will be discharged over a similar length. A Jacker/Packer will then make a first pass to effect a basic tamping excercise, before the 07 tamper returns at the end of the month.

After ballasting the platfom 1 road as well, the train gets into position to start on the plain track south of the repositioned turnout.

The plough is wound up and down numerous times (ouch!) as it needs to be up to pass over the turnout, and down to do its work during a ballast drop.

Finally, the last 4 wagons were discharged along the plain line, one by one, leading up to the tunnel. More ballast is needed here, 6 wagons was not enough. They will be refilled tomorrow morning, for a second drop tomorrow afternoon.


Ballasting dropping at Winchcombe completed, it was time to get back to Broadway and continue with Stevie. The idea was to get rid of all the ballast supplied early this morning, so that more deliveries can be made tomorrow.

A final load at the end of daylight finds this scene near the sewage farm. The first roll of Terram is coming to its end (100m used then) and the next one has already been positioned, ready for use.

The blue drum is a critical part of the process. After leaving Pry Lane bridge in the middle distance, we need to change sides with the track in order to enter the former station confines on the down side. While rolling out the Terram yard by yard, we aim for the blue drum, which marks the point where the edge of the Terram will have reachd the other side. As you can see, we are nearly at that point. From there onwards, it is about another 150 yards to Childswickham Road bridge, which is our target for this week. We should be working here most if not all days for the rest of the week.

Wednesday 15 February 2017


Lifting was the order of the day today - the sleepers, so that they could get a minimal packing underneath, ready for a first ballast train, and the rails, with lifting fishplates, to get uneven rails at the same level. The day started well enough, with a dry morning but heavy showers forecast for the afternoon. Actually, there was only one shower. It lasted from 12.30 to 4 o'clock! Ugh.

First things first, a strong cup of tea, a biscuit and a briefing. Ours was to be a bit of a catch up day, the track now being in. We split into 2 teams, one at the tunnel, the other over the turnout.

There were 3 more sleepers to be replaced in the tunnel. The first 10 yards leak quite badly, and the drips have deteriorated the sleepers immediately underneath. We investigated the pile of sleepers removed from the straight, and selected 3 good ones for transporting up to the tunnel mouth.
This big pile still needs removing back to the yard. We made a start on it, but the material is so heavy that the trolleys were overwhelmed and we did just the one.

We took the heavy chairs off a good dozen of them, and carried 3 on to a double trolley that we had brought up.

It's good to see directors get their hands dirty too, can't complain here !

In the tunnel mouth others had dug out the first of the three rotten sleepers, and the replacement was soon slid in. This gang is very practised, it went quite quickly..

Today there was only little mechanical assistance, which was the Telehandler that loaded fresh ballast one trolley at a time. These were then pushed up the slope (yes, it's uphill through the tunnel, the summit being on the other end).

Once on site just inside the tunnel, the load was shovelled off into the gaps around the newly replaced sleepers. The stone was then packed underneath.

To tidy up, the rotten sleepers were loaded on to the now empty trolley and taken away.

Finally the trolley was loaded with scrap rail cut offs, and still useable chairs from the dozen sleepers we dismantled. All this went back into the yard.

A trolley load of chairs and scrap is pushed up the newly connected loop. Check out the new signals here. These are now the starters for both platforms, marking the extent of the longer platform and loop roads made possible by our relaying exercise. S&T haven't sat still; the progress since Saturday is remarkable. It is expected that these two starters will be operational for the first train.

Looking the other way, we see the old starter signal on the station side of the road bridge. The scaffolding is not for taking it down, but to convert it to a repeater signal with a banner. The operation of this will be connected to the new starters, the latter being short posts so that they can be seen through the bridge.

Lunchtime was a joyous occasion, as it was Dave's birthday! Mrs. Dave baked a lovely cake, which came in a very large tin. After unveiling, the question was asked, who wants cake, and a roomful of hands shot up.
The age of the cake cutter was not made public, but the absence of candles leads one to assume that their large number was thought to present a worrying fire risk.

As we returned for lunch, it started to rain. The first of the 'showers', no doubt. Just need to sit this one out, we thought. It didn't stop though.

As the precipitation increased, and became quite concerning, a number paused outside the refreshment room under the canopy to wait for an abatement.

It didn't come either.

The rain drummed on the carriage roofs, large puddles appeared on the platform and water began to pour out of the gutters. The sky remained heavy and dark, with no sign of a break in the clouds.

Eventually, even those who had volunteered to help with the washing up were forced to retun to work, but the bench under the canopy looked very attractive, as the rain continued to hammer down in large quantities.

John R took the opportunity to fire a series of dubious jokes at his enforced audience. There was no escape.

After a good 20 minute wait, we ventured out again into what turned out to be light but continuous rain.

There was a bit of a kerfuffle in the yard, as an incoming scrap train met an outgoing empty ballast working. Who had the right of way?

The ballast train was filled by the Telehandler on the barrow crossing, and taken to the turnout, which had a number of suspended timbers, which need to be packed securely before a real, and very much heavier ballast train could cross it.
Working down from the tunnel mouth, Lee and Andy also packed every floating sleeper, so that at the end of the day the majority of this job was secured, leaving perhaps a little more to do at the station end.

Another of our jobs was to fit so-called 'lifters' to various joints in the turnout. As we are working with second hand rail, the ends often do not match in their wear rates, leaving a step between one rail and another. This is cured by fitting a special set of fishplates, which has one end higher than the other. They come in units of 1/16th inch. Of course the one you want is still on the trolley, several yards away.

A problem for us today was the fitting of this insulated set of fishplates, which besides being insulated, also provided a lift. Very specialised.

Being so specialised, they are not often used and this example had been in the back of the GUV for so long that the nuts had rusted on solid. It took us ages to get them off, even with the use of the motorised nut runner and a plentiful and regular application of black, sticky PWay grease. Clive observed the operation of the nut runner so closely, that his face became covered in spots of grease off the spinning nuts, including a large one on his glasses, which perplexed him at first as he suddenly saw a lot less well.

Here is Clive checking the step up required for one set of mismatched rails. Will it be 1/8th, or 3/16ths?

We have to speak in Imperial here, as that is what is marked indelibly on the back of the fishplates.

Metrication has not penetrated this far yet.

At the end of the day we had broken the back of the lifting job, although a little still remains to be done. We were all soaked, leather gloves sodden, and the 'builder's cleavages' filled with rainwater from bending over.
We loaded the tools on to the trolleys and trudged homewards, happy and satisfied that we had progressed the reactivation of this part of the line a little closer. Not long now till the first train of the season!

Saturday 11 February 2017

Snow, and a milestone

Pretty grim weather today - zero degrees on arrival, which painfully climbed to one degree during the day. There was even snow on the ground at Winchcombe today, and up the cutting where a gang of 14 set to work.

 Winchcombe signal box had a white roof, and the Cotswolds behind were covered in mist, with patches of white. Very seasonal !

Ever had problems starting your car in the cold? Well, it's the same with the motorised sleeper drills and nut runners (A.k.a 'Animals')

This one wouldn't start at all. Steve has got the sparkplug out; the others are peering anxiously to see if it is wet or not. That will give you a hint to what is wrong.

Finally we got one going, and here is Mike with the drilling gang, drilling holes in the replaced timbers to tie down the whole thing nice and tight (and preferrably to gauge too)

As these machines are heavy, there is a change of operator at intervals, and here it's Paul's turn on the drill, while Neil waits to follow up with the nut runner to secure the bolts.

Just before drilling the final holes, a check is made that the whole thing is true to gauge. Measure twice, cut once - the old adage is still true.

By the end of the day (and we are talking nearly 5pm now, since the evenings are getting longer) the drilling team had done every one of the holes on the turnout, perhaps as many as 200 holes drilled.

Here is a section of the turnout, with the yellow and orange colours denoting the shavings from holes drilled in different kinds of wooden sleeper.

We all do what we can within our abilities, and here is John, older than most of us but still very game, with a whole bunch of chairs screws greased up and ready to go.

Today we also put in the last rail, which Andy has just cut to size. The whole relay section can now be traversed by a PWay trolley, or indeed the Landie.

A second team split off and completed the keying up of the straight between the tunnel mouth and the bracket signal. Although quite a few keys had already been inserted, the welding team had to free up 3 chairs each side of a weld in order to level up the two rail ends to be welded together. These all had to be put back, and usually the holes under the chairs no longer lined up, meaning lifting and fiddling with the holes and the chair screws.
As we were only a small team, it was sometimes the case of one person in charge of two lifting bars. We can handle that.

You can always learn something in the PWay game, there are many tricks and neat solutions.

How do you move a whole pile of Pan keys without a wheelbarrow?

Andy shows us how - make a daisy chain of them. OK, OK, no need to look so smug.

The keying up team moves slowly up the line towards the tunnel mouth. In the backround the bolting down team spent nearly the whole day on the turnout.
The track still needs a bit of 'tweaking', but we are getting nearer the day we can let a ballast train drop a load in here.

By the tunnel mouth a catch pit issue still had to be resolved. It is in the 'six foot' i.e. the centre of the track, but the running line is not in its historical place, being a foot or so nearer the centre.

This means that the previously covered catch pit, opened and cleaned, has had to be covered again. Moving the running line back to where it should be is a huge job, and would also require the purchase of quite a bit of additional ballast to gain extra height required.

As the three sleepers involved had to rest on something, we reinstated the original arrangement where they rested on ballast supported by 5 rail cut offs. At least we can run trains again now.

Back at the Winchcombe end, two new signal posts have been planted, to allow for the longer platform and loops that we have created.

With the turnout finally bolted down, it was time to 'tweak' it and correct the curve that goes through it. With the JCB now 'on holiday' we had to resort to the time honoured manual way, i.e. men on bars.

Nigel has stepped way back and is eyeing up one of the running rails, before giving instructions to heave the heavy pointwork over by an inch this way or that. Of course the final adjustment will be done by the tamper when it returns at the end of the month.

A short while later the team addressed the loop line, which had a curve in it that was rather too generous. This bit was rather easier, esp with more people on bars to help. In fact we actually overshot at one point, and had to tweak it back the other way.

Our last picture shows the gang, in the failing light, barring the loop line as it comes off the platform. A bit more work is needed here, but we can't work in the dark so will need to do this next time.

Thanks a million

The milestone mentioned in the title is that we have reached a MILLION !

A million pounds on the share appeal, thanks to your great and hugely appreciated support. We have £250.000 still to find, but after crossing the million mark, the end really looks achievable now. Remember that £1.25m is only for the minimum to get us to Broadway, so do help us get there in fine style.

Another, more modest milestone is that this family of blogs has been blessed with a MILLION page views. The interest you have shown in our activities shows that we must be doing something right. We do hope, as the blogs are free and we have not yielded to the temptation to allow ads on them, that sometimes you will reach for your chequebook and reward us with a share purchase or gift to the trust.

So where have you clicked the most? Here is a little summary of your interest shown, over the lifetime to date, in each of the blogs in this group:

Extension Blog: 414.000 views
Hayles Abbey Herald: 50.000 views
Building Services Bulletin: 111.000 views
Bridges Blog: 161.000 views
CRC2 Blog: 271.000 views.

Grand total as of yesterday: 1.007.000 page views. Wow!

You did it, dear reader, so give yourself a richly deserved pat on the back. And thank you for supporting the GWR, see you again shortly with the next post.