Saturday 27 January 2018

The smell of the grease, the roar of the crowd

Medium sized gang today, dare we split it into two? We dared.

The main gang trudged in the rain over to the pointwork being relaid at Toddington south.

We had the generous bucket of Stevie to help us carry the tools the 500m or so. Notice the sneaky puddle into which you will step when you have something heavy to drop into the bucket. Too late ! The squelch will follow you for the rest of the day.

A smaller delegation of two repaired to Broadway on a special mission to check the clearances on the P2 track, so that a ballasting train can safely pass ('safely' here means without scratching Neil's cherished class 73!)

On arrival - whoa! - the bridge is open, and what a great and very striking warning sign it now bears. In fact on leaving Broadway village half a mile away, the first thing you see as you drive down station road is the word 'LOW' in the distance. It should prevent a few strikes, and further measures are being seriously contemplated. It's a bit early still to say what, so let's wait until things are signed.

Between the platforms a barrow of ballast was propelled into the station.

The destination was this mini digger, which had just installed an extra catchpit where the station storm drains feed into the track centre drains.

Even on non-working days at Broadway there is someone on site now. Here Neal is giving the shuttering for one of the canopy extension supports a final tweak so that it sits exactly in the right position. It's wet down there, we are in original clay here and water seeps in all the time. There is a submersible pump to keep things dry-ish; it won't have to work long because the concrete pour is taking place on Tuesday.

On to the track for the job that we came to do.

We have to ensure with this gauge that the rail is at least a certain minimum distance away from the platform edge, all the way through.

It's not the final position, because the proximity to the edge will change when the track is tamped. If the level part of the gauge changes, then so will the upright.

At this stage all we are interested in is a proper clearance all the way through. More ballast trains are in the air, date to be confirmed, but it will be next week.

Most of the track was indeed a bit tight, so we jacked it out an inch or two most of the way along. All in the rain, while the Broadway gang ferried slabs in the dry. We're in the wrong gang here...

At the southern end there is a bit of a kink, caused by the proximity of the catch pit in the centre, and the fact that the track laid followed the platform slabs, which swing away a little here. You can't see that, but they do. We managed about three quarters of the 200m before it was time for lunch in the mess coach. We didn't want ot miss any of Mrs. B's most excellent cake, so hurried back to Toddy.

Just in time, as it turned out. Nigel was already cutting it into slices. If you were really fast, there was actually a choice of chocolate or vanilla. Or both...

Back to work after lunch, to finish off the last 50m or so. Behind us in this view here the track looked pretty straight, but what mattered was that it was always sufficiently clear of the platform edge.

During our work we were intercepted by a security patrol from the Broadway gang. We managed to persuade them of our honest intentions.

We did the whole platform length, except for this bit outside the signal box, which was buried in ballast and could not be shifted by mere mortals such as us. Stevie will nudge it into place on Monday with the mini digger here, no probs.

For the last hour or so we went on to Toddington south, where the main gang was in full swing, in now drier weather. Here is Chris adjusting the length of one of the rails in the crossing.

It all sounded very busy indeed - Telehandler, JCB, disc cutter, rail drill, and 'Animal', at times all going off together. But now you can see how nicely the new turnout is shaping up.

On the right two stock (straight) rails have been fitted, the second with check rails where the gang is standing. It's not as easy to assemble as it looks. Obviously it was a turnout before, but when you fit it with new sleepers and reassemble it from a kit of parts that's been lying in the undergrowth everything seems to have moved a bit.

Here's an example of something that's moved. This base plate was pushed under and on top of the new sleepers, but it won't go any further because the clip on top is interfering with the nut on the check rail. Now the top LH chair screw hole is off the sleeper. We 'put that one in a box' and will come back to it later.

The stock rail at the rear is too long and needs cutting to size, parallel with the end of the crossing. To check the position we resort to Pythagoras and his right angled triangle.

It still works! After all these centuries.

Chris was about to cut the stock rail to size when a warning came from the centre that the crossing was going to be nudged an inch towards Toddington. Just as well he hadn't started yet.

Meanwhile, Jim and Paul were doing up the base plates but found that the bolt for the clip wouldn't go into its holes. Remember that these rails have been dragged out of the undergrowth and through the mud on site. The culprit was eventually found and removed from its hiding place at the bottom of the bolt hole - it was a stone. Of course. Cheeky thing, but we found you!

Four o'clock soon came. The evenings are brighter now; we used to knock off at dusk at three o'clock. Here's a view of the turnout so far - can you see what it is yet? We've got a closure rail and another stock rail still to go, and most of the bits at the far end to be screwed down too. Then replace the plain track by the Telehandler, then start on the other turnout, and associated raising of the headshunt, which is currently lower than the main line. Plenty of fun to go still.

The gang trudges home as the sun goes down. That's not quite right though, as there was no sun, but it got less bright and that light would soon go out. Now to strip off the oily, sodden clothing, and try to keep that car clean too, for the ride home.

To finish with, here's a blast from the past, with a shot of the same area (in the distance). It was taken in 1982 by John Lees, a PWay gang member then, and a PWay gang member today. There must be something about the spirit in this gang to stick with it for so long. Certainly there is excellent cameraderie.

The track in the picture was laid during 1982, and prior to the start of laying the running line out towards Winchcombe, so in this picture the track laid peters out beyond the yard throat. By the big bush, that's where we are working today. It doesn't look quite right, it looks as if in the distance they used a RH turnout where they should have laid a LH one. Means must in those days, we mustn't crticise. You laid what you had, and were glad of it.

Last but not least, here is an interesting BTF film made perhaps in the late 1950s about how track replacement can be (sort of) mechanised.

Hope you enjoy it, as we did. Such nostalgia...

PS Last, last thing: an update on the bridges blog, take a look, as it's no longer on the main website blog list:


  1. Loved the Youtube video - so many things of interest. The attire of the men, the way they aligned the track (who needs a tamper??) but they didn't mention ballasting the section just relaid. Well done for today's work in the rain. I wondered what the mini digger was doing in the Broadway trackwork, seen in the grainy webcam image. I wonder if there is any thought to continuing the use of the webcam when the station goes public? A nice High Definition one would be good - with more than one picture per 30 seconds. Perhaps even live streaming of video to Youtube? After all, I see that BT now has "superfast broadband" available in Broadyway!

    1. West Somerset Railway and North Yorkshire Moors Railway both have excellent live webcams on their websites, would be great if we could join the club!

  2. Yuk. What a day. I've thought of an old song for you. "I'm singin' in the rain" (Gene Kelly, 1952 (I think,) or was it 1951 ?

    The repaired bridge at Broadway looks a treat. Until the next time.

    Good luck.


  3. The BTF was pretty good. The crane they then used moves along at a very nippy rate of knots.Out comes the bullhead rail and in goes the flat bottom sections. Everyone knows exactly what to do and it all looks very slick.
    I know it's somewhere on the GW but I don't know the exact location.
    Any suggestions?

  4. As ever this is an excellent log documenting great work.
    I was interested in the blast from the past photo. I noticed the two original signal posts were still present to the left of the main line. When the original line was still open they could be seen from the Cheltenham road and it always intrigued me that two signals for the same direction were placed so close together presumably required for controlling trains coming out of the sidings.

    If you want further apropriate music to accompany your work how about:
    "I can't stop the rain" David Ruffin,
    Bert Bacharach's "Rain drops keep falling on my head",
    "A hard rain's a-gonna fall", Bob Dylon,
    "Rainy day, dream away" Jimi Hendrix.....OK I will shut up and go away.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards Ian Major

    1. I think a heritage railway requires something older ! I've only just thought of it, but didn't Bing Crosby record (in 1936, I think) a song, the title of which I've forgotten, but including the words :

      "When skies are cloudy and grey
      They're only grey day for a day
      So wrap your troubles in dreams
      And dream your troubles away"

      So, perhaps a bit of community singing in the PW coach ? It might help ...

      Well, it was just a thought.


  5. The new bridge warning signs at Broadway certainly are bright. If goods driver can't see them, they must be blind. however, it is a fact that most drivers of high loads don't know the height of them or the width. They just know they have a tall load. It's time that the councils adopted a railway device where there are low bridges; and that is a loading gauge! If you hit it, you are too tall a load!
    The BTF film was wonderful. All the British Transport films are! A real step back in time - not a yellow vest in sight then! Did you know that railwaymen had a term for walking on the track with your back to the direction of rail traffic. It was called 'Widows and orphans', for obvious reasons! Not that any on the film were doing that and I know that you lot in P Way would never subject yourselves to danger.
    Great work today in awful weather - my bones are playing up with the damp!
    Regards, Paul.

  6. As a matter of interest, how will the new turnout at Toddington be controlled? Directly from the box, or by a ground frame released from the box?

    1. From the box, with a point motor.
      Don't ask me about the token though :-). Maybe a local release, like at the northern end of P1 at the station.

  7. I did a bit more research. Bridge strikes across the UK, both over and under rail variety work out at about 5 a day. Apparently. Each such strike costs a cool £13,000 to rectify. No figures were sourced for forty plus heritage railways unlucky enough to have inherited bridges.
    Putting large signs on the bridge at BY is not in itself going to prevent further strikes but a solid, advance position T- beam might slow down a few dimwitted individuals.
    On both approaches, of course. Second - hand fishplates and sleepers help keep the cost down very low.

  8. Interesting to see some steel sleepers in the 1982 photo. Are they still in place? Steel sleepers are common nowadays (the main line through Cheltenham Spa station has them), but the older type with bullhead chairs are quite rare.

    If I remember correctly, at least some of the track in Toddington yard came from an army base at Gloucester. It was very much a case of scrounging whatever track was available in those days...and adapting the track plans to suit. That's probably why the turnout goes the 'wrong' way.

    There's a section of track near Hayles Abbey Halt that also came from the army base - recognisable from the unusual design of concrete sleepers, which were a wartime type, designed to use minimum concrete.

    The army base is now a housing estate, but there's still a bit of track remaining on site - unfortunately on the Network Rail side of the fence, so salvaging it would probably require approved contractors and a lot of cash. Network Rail doesn't allow just anyone to work on its land, as I suspect some tree surgeons in Bristol are about to find out!

  9. I don't think any of the first laid sleepers south of Toddington are still there. there were some heroic recovery oiperations from Ashchurch and Quedgeley, but as far as I know it was siding quality and later had to be replaced.
    You will see this when I put up the next lot of photographs from John Lees on to the Fickr site. It will take me some time though, there are lots of them.