Wednesday 11 July 2018

Bishops Cleeve

A day at Bishops Cleeve today, and a birthday.

Mrs. Blogger was persuaded to produce a cake:

Peanut butter and chocolate - Yum!
Sadly, due to your blogger's birthday, the average age of the PWay gang went up a notch today.

It was peanut and chocolate. It was a test: if successful, another birthday cake will appear on Saturday!

We can report that the cake did indeed vanish, despite apologies for peanut allergy and diets. Others very kindly jumped into the gap and consumed twice their share.

We decided to continue with our fault finding mission on the southern half of the line. Last week we reached the northern breather at Bishops Cleeve, so to Bishops Cleeve it was. All aboard!

Bishops Cleeve is surrounded by new housing, and the station site was sold years ago. The railway today is just a double track channel through the middle. There's a wee bit of space by the foot crossing, so this is where we parked the cars and the Landie.

Head scratching now, as we consult the track walker's spread sheet.

We decided that all of us would repair to the northern breather, located a bit north of the road bridge at the far end of the former station.

On the left is the former goods yard of the station. Years ago now already the British Legion built a clubhouse there, and a couple of years back it came on the market and was bought by a nursery, which made a very good job of fettling up a fairly dire building.

The GWSR had a crack at acquiring (part of) the site, but was outbid by the nursery. We are not rich, sadly.

The local village site has two good pictures of the former station. Have a look at this one:

It's taken at the same place, but looking in the other direction. The passenger station was at the back of our picture above, by the pine trees in the distance. So the British Legion site would not have got us back our station anyway; it's covered by housing already.

At the breather, part of the CWR laid here to give the residents a quieter experience of the railway line, we split into two teams. One went south to continue fault finding; the other addressed a problem with the breather and would then work north to replace some failed fishplate bolts.

The breather had a loose base plate bolt (tightened) and a loose bolt on the two short lengths of rail that hold the breather together.

That was a bit more tricky, as the bolt was spinning and it would normally need an insert.

The steel coil insert would not go through the hole in the old rail, and with the hot weather we did not think it wise to remove the rail. The best fix we could devise was to fill the old hole with a piece of sapling, and then  screw the chair screw back into it.

Job done! All nice and tight again.

Just step aside for a moment to let 2807 through, with the first full train from CRC. Generally speaking the trains looked filled OK today, including the DMU, which provided the second train that was about.

The fault finding team loaded their gear into a barrow and started to walk south. That barrow was loaded up with heavy stuff, and we wish we had a second Landie for this sort of requirement. Now it's a lot of old men pushing heavy stuff along in a wheelbarrow.

Steam loco 2807 was followed  by the DMU, which seemed to feature in quite a lot of pictures today. Probably because the loco was running with its tender facing south, and with the strong sun a shot to the north (looking at the end of the tender) was the best photograph available.

Having addressed the breather, we moved further towards Gotherington and eventually found the loose fishplate bolt that was reported. We failed to find the neighbouring one, said to be located in the next joint. Must have been tightened by the track walker then.

If you take a closer look at the bolt (which we decapitated, as the nut was spinning) you can see it is off centre in its hole. That's bad news. We managed to knock it out, but the new bolt would not go in unless we hammered it, thus rendering the thread useless again.

Here is the bolt that we took out. The problem is not the wasted thread at the bottom, but the two lines of thread nearer the nut. It was here that the nut was spinning, having stripped the thread.

How, we do not know.

We solved the problem by loosening the other three bolts, and then knocking one of the fishplates sideways with a keying hammer. It was a great feeling of victory when we got the new bolt in, without damage. Another problem solved!

Where next? Dave studies the spreadsheet, as the DMU approaches in the distance from Cheltenham.

Another set of loose bolts a bit further along was easily addressed by tightening up with what we call a 'hand' spanner. It could just as easily be a simple spanner, but we also have motor driven ones (the lovable 'Animal') so hand spanner it is, to underline the difference.

While were at it, we did both sides, you never know. We're still close to Bishops Cleeve here, but you can't see the new housing estates because of the trees, so it still looks all green here.

Note also the Genny on the Landie. This is a really useful machine, which we use to cut through the seized bolts with the 115v angle grinder

South of Bishops Cleeve, evidence of activity from a neighbour on our side of the fence. The fence is right on the edge of the cutting, and the neighbour has been on our side to lay down some sort of Terram, part way down the slope towards the track.

With the sun requiring photographs looking north, we took this picture of 2807 about to enter the site of Bishops Cleeve station.

What a lovely locomotive, with its polished motion.

We stopped for lunch by the foot crossing, where we found a shady spot from which to engage in loco spotting.

2807 Got that one though, did I underline it?

After lunch the gang united and walked south, after losing a few members on other duties.

The Cotswolds side of the line is still intact, with no housing estates visible.

This herd of cows came to protest loudly at something, but there was nothing we could do to help. It was a mixture of milking cows and their calves. Not a good combination to approach in a field, the mothers are very protective.

Keeping an eye on the clip repairers from the Landie. Have they finished that one yet?

Further south still from the conurbation that is Bishops Cleeve, we can see Cleeve Hill at the top here, and another herd of cows in a very dry meadow.

When they saw us, they all came cantering towards the hedge, moo-ing loudly.

We were clearly expected to provide something, but what?

Right at the top, John informed us, was a former hill fort, whose outer defensive ring was interrupted by quarrying. Fascinating.

With Bishops Cleeve now receding fast into the distance, we replaced out last set of clips and pads here, using the trusty pan jacks.

Or Land Mines, as they are also referred to by some.
We said it before, but that DMU featured a lot today, because with the sun behind us we had to look north and the sole kettle today was tender first this way.

Quite a few people were in the DMU today, which is good news. Were they just travelling from A to B?

Before we go, news of a brand new project from the railway's Heritage Group. A long gestation period after the completion of Hayles Abbey halt has finally come to fruition.

Read all about it here, in the revamped Hayles Abbey blog, now retitled: Heritage Herald Blog.

Onwards and upwards ! We are the GW (S) R.


  1. In the first picture cows (and calves) I'm pretty certain there is also a bull present; it's the top animal I think.

  2. RE: "On the left is the former goods yard of the station. Years ago now already the British Legion built a clubhouse there, and a couple of years back it came on the market and was bought by a nursery, which made a very good job of fettling up a fairly dire building.

    The GWSR had a crack at acquiring (part of) the site, but was outbid by the nursery. We are not rich, sadly.

    The local village site has two good pictures of the former station. Have a look at this one:

    It's taken at the same place, but looking in the other direction. The passenger station was at the back of our picture above, by the pine trees in the distance. So the British Legion site would not have got us back our station anyway; it's covered by housing already."

    Sad to read what happened, that would now, take an enormous amount of time, money and effort to unravel.

  3. Unfortunately I think the original Bishops Cleeve station site has gone for good. The area where the platforms used to be can still be seen from passing trains, but there's no access from the other side of the railway fences. The station approach road now has houses built on it.

    Here's a Google photo of the old entrance on Station Road. The GWR staff houses on the right are the only buildings from the station that survive. The road up to the station was where the new house (with the red Mini outside) now stands:

    If a new station was built I think the only place it could go is south of the foot crossing, with access from Pecked Lane on the Bishops Cleeve side, and from the footpath through the housing estate on the Woodmancote side. It might even be possible to create footpath access from Two Hedges Road - the railway land is quite wide here.

    It would be very much a local station for local people: there's no space for car parking. That wouldn't be a problem, though, because there are now so many people on the railway's doorstep.

    When the latest round of housing estates are finished, it's estimated that Bishops Cleeve and Woodmancote together will have a population of around 20,000 - roughly the size of Tewkesbury or Penzance, and bigger than towns such as Aberystwyth or Cirencester.

    (That seems incredible, but I just looked up the population figures, and it's surprising how small some places we think of as big towns actually are - and how massive some places that still like to think of themselves as villages have become.)

    The location of a new station, more or less in the middle of the built-up area, would mean that most of those 20,000 people would be within a few minutes' walk from the station.

    The D bus route (to Cheltenham main line station via the town centre) stops just round the corner, so a new Bishops Cleeve station could be a good starting point for people who visit the line by public transport. It would certainly beat slogging over the hill to the bus stop at Cheltenham Race Course.

  4. please stop dreaming about new stations and halts , we have quite enough already any more will slow up the journey time and spoil the enjoyment of a 30 mile train journey 2 hours is the right amount of time for visitors ,especially when its hot .

    Our Loco crews , train and station staff are stretched to the limit and more volunteers are needed to run our successful and wonderful railway, so expensive new projects are not needed for some years .

    Good luck with the new project ,will be there to help john M.

  5. I fully agree that the railway should not embark on any more big, expensive projects for the next few years.

    Right now, a period of consolidation is the most important thing: to complete the outstanding work at Broadway, to provide a carriage shed, and to maintain and improve the railway as it stands.

    I noticed that as soon as the Broadway extension was completed, quite a lot of people began clamouring for an extension to Honeybourne - as if the Permanent Way department could simply carry on laying track.

    But I never joined in with the cries of 'Onward to Honeybourne!' Because it's not that simple, and certainly not something that the GWSR should think about for a good many years. There's other work to be done first.

    However, as a medium-term project - say, in the next five years - a station at Bishops Cleeve looks encouragingly viable. I certainly don't think there's any evidence to suggest it would be a burden on the railway.

    I don't think a stop at Bishops Cleeve would make the journey time too long. Trains already slow to 15mph through Bishops Cleeve, but there's no operational reason why they have to travel so slowly.

    The restriction was imposed so that trains would make less noise in the built-up area, although frankly it's a bit of an academic point. Trains always whistle when approaching the foot crossing, and when they accelerate after the restriction they actually make *more* noise. So I don't necessarily think local residents see much benefit.

    If you stood at the trackside with a db meter, I bet there wouldn't be any real difference between the noise levels of passing trains at 15mph, and at 25mph.

    But if it's considered acceptable to lengthen the journey time by imposing a rather unnecessary speed restriction through Bishops Cleeve, then it can't really be argued that a station stop would make much difference.

    Even if adding a stop at a Bishops Cleeve station does make the journey time longer, I don't think that will be a deal-breaker.

    By way of comparison, the West Somerset Railway is 23 miles long and has 10 stations - 9 originals, and one extra station (Doniford Halt) built in the heritage era. A glance at the WSR timetables shows that end-to-end journey time is typically 1 hour 47 minutes.

    The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway is 14 miles long, and has six stations. Journey time is one hour (well, according to the timetables, one hour and one minute - I'm sure those extra 60 seconds are important!)

    I've never heard it argued that a journey on the WSR takes too long - even though it's getting on for two hours. Nor can I recall anyone suggesting that Doniford Halt should not be built, because an extra station would increase the journey time too much.

    I'm sure that there comes a point where journey times *do* become an issue. But the evidence suggests the GWSR has a bit of time in hand.

    I also don't think a station at Bishops Cleeve would impose an additional burden on volunteers. That argument only stands up if we assume that the present number of volunteers on the railway will remain static - that no extra people will ever be recruited.

    It's not necessarily easy to recruit new volunteers, of course, but the GWSR has done good work in this area, and new people are joining. The key thing is to keep those new volunteers coming. This is where the vastly increased population of Bishops Cleeve could help.

    As I remarked above, the population of Bishops Cleeve is set to go up to 20,000. Even if just 0.25% of those people became GWSR volunteers, that's an additional 50 staff. That in itself is a convincing argument to bring Bishops Cleeve into the fold. We can't afford to ignore all those people.

    And, of course, if even a small percentage of those 20,000 people bought tickets, that would generate extra cash.

    At present, there's a lot of additional revenue at Bishops Cleeve, just sitting there, watching the trains go by...

  6. I'm sure they will go to CRC to catch our trains which is well run by volunteers . . Other internal projects are more important to initiate , all of which need funding from profits .

    If you are so keen ,recruit more volunteers from the town and lets see how much it will cost ,that will probably scupper it .

    West Somerset is too long for many and 15 miles is recognised as being the optimum length for HR's like WSR with NYMR whom Pway have just visited . Both have a hefty Wage bill to run their operations . john M.

  7. Like should read unlike on last Para , there are so few Standard Gauge HR's over 15 miles so we are just right in terms of acceptable journey times and , amazingly the only one volunteer driven and the envy of the big boys . john M.

  8. Yes, I agree that the GWSR has more important projects to get on with. A new station at Bishops Cleeve cannot be a priority right now.

    But in five years (or so), when the railway has cleared its decks a bit, I think it'll be time to look again.

    Future developments often aren't funded from profits. The railway also has income from other sources: legacies, donations, share issues, etc.

    The GWSR raised a million pounds to rebuild the embankment at Chicken Curve; another half a million to repair bridges on the way to Broadway. The Last Mile share issue had a target of £1.25 million - and beat it by £80,000. In total that's the best part of three million pounds. Not one penny of it came out of profits.

    When other projects have been completed, I'd be inclined to look into a Bishops Cleeve station share issue, with publicity centred on Bishops Cleeve itself: "Help rebuild your station!" Past experience suggests the money would be there.

    I don't think there is an optimum length for heritage railways, beyond which it all starts going wrong. If the West Somerset Railway was too long we would see evidence of this: the line wouldn't be very successful.

    I looked up the figures, and the WSR carried 189,359 passengers in 2017 - up from 186,603 in 2016. Peak year was 2009, when it carried 200,000. I'm not sure what caused the subsequent drop, but it clearly wasn't anything to do with the length of the line. That never changed!

    The success or failure of a heritage railway depends on many variables. Mileage (and therefore journey time) is a factor, but not the most important one.

    I think service frequency is important. A long journey is less of an issue than having to wait a long time for a train to turn up in the first place.

    Destinations are key, too. I think people are prepared to travel for a relatively long time if there's a decent destination at the end of the journey. The WSR sores highly here, with Minehead, Dunster and Watchet all top tourist spots.

    When the NYMR started running to Whitby, its length effectively increased to 24 miles (longer than the WSR).

    Unfortunately it's a very slow journey, because there wasn't enough money to install signalling. Trains grind to a halt at three locations while someone jumps down from the loco, phones up Nunthorpe Box for permission, and works the points. This pushes the Whitby - Pickering journey time up to 1 hour 45 minutes.

    Theoretically, then, the Whitby extension should be a disaster: it made the NYMR too long and too slow.

    But in fact it's a success. In the first year passenger numbers on the Grosmont - Whitby section totalled 120,000, a 10% increase on the NYMR's overall figures. That's the power of a destination!

    I think if a heritage railway takes people somewhere they want to go, journey time is not a big issue. It's certainly not a problem for the GWSR - although a Honeybourne extension might change that...

    I think it's a very good idea to recruit volunteers from Bishops Cleeve. A good start would be to leaflet every one of those new houses with GWSR literature.

    Many of the houses have a fine view of trains going by, but I wonder how many of the people who've just moved in know anything about the railway. Pushing some publicity bumph through their letterboxes would be a good way to kick-start a bit of interest. I would be happy to grab a bag of leaflets and do the job myself. And I live in London - I'd travel to Bishops Cleeve just to make the rounds.

    Some of the housing estates are not finished, so there's time to put together a Bishops Cleeve-specific leaflet, if that's deemed necessary. In any case I assume there will be another print run of the timetable leaflet at some point, to include the revisions. So it wouldn't necessarily cost anything extra.

  9. During the AGM the board said that they were open to recommendations about extending, but to date they had not yet heard a convincing argument. I think anyone is free to write in with one. A 5 year period of pausing for breath was mentioned.
    In the meantime, there is a surprisingly large number of capex projects on the horizon. Some are known about, eg bridge protection barriers, finishing Broadway, a carriage shed, loco mess facilities. Other great opportunities are at an early stage and could be quite exciting, but will need outside funds. Let's see if they come to fruition.

    Personally, I would go for another fund raiser, as the goodwill is out there, and we have the opportunities - a good mixture.

  10. cannot keep up with your lengthy missives , I run the leaflet volunteers team of 30 who operate in towns and villages where they live or pass through ,so our flyers and STEAM timetables are distributed to relevant outlets .

    Mailshots to specific areas are time consuming although we shall be delivering Food & Drink flyers + SANTA to 100 new homes in Winchcombe and Broadway prior to the event in October .

    We would not produce a specific leaflet for Bishops Cleeve ,we have tight budgets to work to and remember we do not have paid staff as at WSR and NYMR to run longer HR's . Hope London is bearable in this heat ,try working on Pway sometime ! john M.