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.

Wednesday 26 April 2017

The dust devils

A gang of 12 was on three jobs today:

- Sleeper stacking at Gotherington. The lovely pile we made there earlier has gone! Someone loaded it on to a train and took it away, so we have to start all over again.
- Laying out the materials for clipping up after stressing, along the second 1000m to be stressed at Little Buckland.
- Making two ballast drops on the northern half of the second 1000m to be stressed.

But first things first: the next lot of new rail has arrived!

Three lorry loads arrived on Monday, and at the end of the day +/- 48 rails had been loaded on to the two bogie flats. This would give over 400 yards of new track when all is laid.

Complicated manoeuverings then ensued, which involved the fully loaded ballast train (with extension ballast) heading south, away from the extension! At the time on Monday there was a sleeper train being loaded at Gotherington, and the manoeuvre was required to bring the ballast wagons ato the rear of this extension train. The rails are now at the front, and the sleepers in the middle. Did you get all that?

Three of us set off for Gotherington Skew Bridge, pausing at Winchcombe to pick up the Telehandler. As we can stack about a hundred sleepers in a day, it takes at least three days of stacking to get a supply for a trainload.

The other 9 repaired to Little Buckland. Here we completed laying out the plastics and steel clips for the first 500m of the next rail to be stressed.

Plastics, pads, clips, John is scratching his head over what to do next.... choices, choices.

In our portfolio we already had the availability of a full ballast train. The loaded wagons were at Peasebrook, the loco at Toddington. How to get one to the other, while there were train loads of passengers running? The answer was to get the class 73 out on the extension early, then quickly bring back the staff to Toddington for the DMU to do its regular run to Laverton.

Here the loco for the ballast train is passing the gang laying out the plastics at Little Buckland curve.

A few minutes clater, the class 73 was back, now heading south again with the 6 Dogfish in tow. The desired point of discharge was just north of the bridge, on the second half of the next length to be stressed.

John opens the centre doors, as the train starts to reverse back north. A huge cloud of dust emerges from underneath the wagon, the result of the many dry days we have been having.

As John opens the chutes with the wheel, a huge dust cloud advances on the unsuspecting gang members. Not so much John, whoa !

The train passes the camera and envelops the banksman trying to give instructions for the drop.

Maybe the loco driver can see better, but from the ground there isn't a lot to see through this big cloud.

Up above things are a little better, providing you picked a wagon with the platform that was upwind. In seconds this 20 ton load disappeared down the chute and on to the new track.

Heading north, the ballst drops were 'sharked' to transfer excess into the cess. Heading south a few moments later, a tyre was added to the plough for extra effect.

Here a GWSR director - yes, they get their hands dirty - cleans off the ballast and fine dust from the plough after the first move. It's dirty work, even these modest hand movements create their own little clouds of dust.

After the passing of the train, this is the result. More ballast round the sleepers, this to hold the track tightly in place so that it does not move after it has been stressed. Two trainloads were dropped here today.

We went home to Toddington to have our lunch - sandwiches, alas, and not even that for one member of the gang, who made himself a lovely pile of them, but then left them at home - and we caught sight of the loco gang lifting one of the Broadway ridge purlins out of the workshop.

This ridge purlin is slightly shorter than the others, and is destined for the part of the canopy that connects with the footbridge steps. Love that arch!

The loco gang has been riveting furiously. There are 68 rivets in a truss for example, and it takes all day to do one. All the intermediate purlins are done, and 4 out of the 7 trusses.

After lunch, it was back to laying out the clipping material. A vast quantity of steel SHC clips was required, we calculated. Nearly 2 stillages worth were stacked on to the company truck, which we had to go and borrow from B&S / the drainage gang, who were rebuilding the steps for a foot crossing nearby. They were kind enough to let us have it, provided we drove it to Alderton first! Why are things never that simple? But fair's fair, we did that, then returned to Little Buckland with about a ton of these things.

Moving slowly north, we made little piles every 18 metres with enough material for a length. The Landie had the plastics, yours truly on the truck had the SHC clips.

Peasebrook Farm is up by the trees in the distance.

Not sure what happened to Robert here (he was not injured) but it must be an easy way of getting the plastics out of the bag through a small hole.

At the end of the day, we had stacked more sleepers (number not known at the time of writing), laid out all the materials for the next 1000m to be stressed, and dropped two trainloads of ballast north of Little Buckland. All with 12 men, not a bad effort, we thought.


The extension train at Peasebrook Farm is now fully replenished. New rail, and two wagon loads of concrete sleepers. We are ready for the next laying session.

Broadway embankment

The contractors for the soil nailing here have arrived, and brought the first equipment in on Monday.

An enormous dumper has been delivered. It's a 25 tonner! It does make you feel rather proud that this sort of equipment is need to shift what our humble volunteers put there over the years with only a 6 tonner from time to time, and quite often only the little trusty one tonner that has been on the railway for so many years. It has a single cylinder Petter diesel engine, is hand cranked, and has never let us down. Probable date of manufacture: 1975. And still going strong, the best of British quality.

On Tuesday, actual work had already started, using a big 360 excavator. Here it is carefully scraping off the top layer of vegetation along the slope that is to be soil nailed. This is being done to give the soil nailing team better access to the slope to be stabilised.

What was also intersting to note was that the many piles of material dumped here in the course of work at Broadway (mainly material taken out of the new platform and building foundations) have already been flattened out, and it looks almost serviceable for a car park.

Previously, this area was about 2ft lower, and was once used by the Broadway station residents for allotments. Now everything is at the level of the private road that runs down the side.

Today, the third day, the entire slope below the goods shed has been cleared of vegetation, and made flat. The once lower area in the foreground is now at the level of the private road.

This is the same area, seen from above. The double track used to run on the left, while area under the camera, and slightly to the right, was once a long siding. This has already been partly removed, and the ash spoil used to flatten the slope.

They shall not pass!
The big dumper, which will be used to ferry the remaining Mythe rubble to the Childswickham end of the site, has been parked on the top. The trackbed has been blocked with Heras fencing, so no PWay movements through here now for 3 months.

Saturday 15 April 2017

Sorting, crossing, sweeping

We split ourselves into two groups today (or perhaps two and a half, as we also had a track walker).

One group carried on with sleeper stacking at Gotherington (amount not known as we go to press, but they should have been able to complete the next train load of 320 now)

The other set off for Laverton south.

At Laverton south there is the crossing for a bridle way which needed to be reinstated.

First, dig out your crossing.

Then, summon your friendly JCB driver, to get him to lift in the parts. They are heavy.

These rubber pads look simple to lay, but actually they are 'handed' and a bit of a puzzle to get right. They also interlock.

Here the last one is laid into position, the a bit of ballast is shoveled against them, so that they do not move before the ballast is heaped up left and right.

We were just standing back to admire a job well done, when a jogger appeared from out of the bushes, and we invited him to be the first person over the reinstated crossing. He was visibly happy to christen it for us!

The jogger jogged off, and Steve took the opportunity to push the ballast together. This locks the pads to the rail, and makes a trackway leading up to them.
Our estates manager can be seen in the background, edging nearer and nearer in his car.

Steve had hardly finished, when he decided to become the second user of the crossing, which was not quite what we had in mind. Oh well. The crossing does make a handy place where vehicles can change sides from one side of the line to the other.

Social media today has ruined the art of conversation, it has now infiltrated our gang as well. Gr8!

At this point the track walker called in to report a broken fish plate, which had to be attended to immediately, as there were trains running. At the same time, we are trying to build an extension. Such is life.

We hopped back to nearby Toddington for a picnic lunch, our usual maitre d' not being available on this Easter Saturday.

The mess coach was in the Parlour Road (why is it called the 'Parlour Road' when it was actually a cattle dock?) and from there, as we chewed over sandwiches and salads, we observed well filled trains and a crowded car park. Good news. Luckily Mrs. B had thought of us, and had baked little Easter pop tarts with mini chocolate easter eggs on. They were eagerly consumed. It was noticeable that those sitting further away from the end table with the tarts had one each, those sitting a bit nearer had two, or even three, while those sitting at the table with the tarts had - Five!

After lunch, we set off for Little Buckland to brush off the southern 500m of the next section to be stressed. The passage of the ballast regulator had left these rows of stones on top of the clips, which needed to be cleaned off before we lift the rail on to the rollers for the stressing.

Here's the gang brushing the 4 sides of the rails at the south end of the curve leading to Little Buckland. This area was also the northern anchor point of the first length to be stressed.

Leigh got the job of shovelling out the mound left by the regulator where it stopped. This is also the pulling point of the second section. (see the temporary fish plates on the right)

As we arrived at the pulling point near the bridge, we stopped for a well deserved rest.
Inspection of the second half of the next section revealed that it needed more ballast before it could be successfully stressed. We intend to do this next Saturday, if the Dogfish can be reloaded in the interim.

Following the lifting in of the crossing pads, Steve had the time to do a few more journeys with rails in tow for Broadway. It's quite a long, slow crawl from Laverton, perhaps 2 miles to Broadway north, then back again for more.

At Broadway, the pile of rails continues to grow. At the time this picture was taken, 36 rails had been taken up (18 pairs of 18m each then) and in the foreground of the picture you can see the component parts of the Laverton loop southern turnout, which at Broadway will form the northern turnout for the loop to be built there. Its timbers have also been moved up. One more week to go, and we will be denied access to Broadway from the trackbed for 3 months until the end of July.

To finish off with, here's a view from the Childswickham Road bridge, back down the recently ballasted trackbed towards the extension rail head. This rail head is currently located at this end of the row of trees in the distance, which stand alongside Peasebrook Farm. In between you can just make out Pry Lane bridge. It doesn't look that far, but remember that the image is zoomed in. We're probably talking about 600 - 700 yards to go still. We're going to finish laying this, then hop over to Broadway north and start back in the other direction, with the embankment works going on in the middle.
Because of your blogger's almost continuous attendance ballasting for the best part of a fortnight recently, Mrs. Blogger has extracted a week's holiday in Cornwall in return. So please be patient for a week or so while we examine the flowers in the Eden Project, and perhaps, look over the fence at the Bodmin & Wenford.