Thursday 30 January 2020

Interim update

You're probably wondering why the blog has gone quiet.

A nasty dose of the flu has struck, leaving the blogger at home shivering in bed. No work, no photographs, no blog posts. It's been like this for 8 days now, with not much improvement. It's too early to predict when posting will resume, please be patient. It's a virus, nothing much you can do, it has to run its course.


The Pway gang have completed the resleepering and re-ferruling excercise at Greet, and this Saturday will return to the viaduct to start putting the track back. Work will start from the southern end and continue north. Quite a number of the sleepers sold to us as 'hardwood' 15 years ago have severe decay and will be replaced by a small supply we have in stock still.

Normal blog service will be restored as soon as possible.

Saturday 18 January 2020

Cold and dangerous.

Friday at Broadway.

Steady as she goes - John was on drilling the holes for the timbers, through a very thick stringer.

Neal was cutting the timbers to fit.

Yours truly on preservation fluid and painting. Six coats, not counting the top coat. Another coat of everything was applied today, we are inching on further.

While John drilled higher up, Neal was cutting a timber to size. This has to go back and forth, with lots of little tiny cuts and shavings with a chisel, until it fits snugly round the roof hoops.

After a while the upper timber on the bottom was tried for size.
 It was right at one end, now for the other. Funny how cutting with the grain is harder than across it.

The bottom one is signed off, and taken round the corner for preservation fluid to be applied on the newly cut ends.

Then on with the second timber from the bottom.

We managed to work until almost 17.00 today, with a bit of sunshine towards the end lighting our way.

No Monday (part-) blog post, due to a funeral. In fact three at once in the circle of yours truly, all in the space of about 3 weeks. Is that because of the winter?

Saturday at Greet.

Just one degree above zero today on setting off, but minus one and a half between Toddington and Winchcombe. Add into that water running from one side of the road to the other, and that explains the 'POLICE' notice by the side of the road on the way back, and a Ford Fiesta with the front stove in inside the Didbrook turnoff. Dangerous conditions today.

Better stay in the cosy mess coach then, and drink tea until the danger goes away. By mid day the thermometer had reached plus 5 C, but in the many shady spots frost continued to lurk throughout the day, and this can catch out the unwary.

Of course we've had plenty of rain too, and because rain strom has followed rain storm, it never really drains away.

Here we are loading spare cast iron chairs into the JCB's front bucket, and the volunteer nearest the camera is ankle deep in water. Nice.

With only 1 Landie available (the other having a technical issue) we clubbed together in private cars, parked up in the pub and hopped over the fence (we didn't hop so easily at the end of the day, that was quite noticeable).

This allowed us to see Stevie arrive in the digger, followed at some distance by a little blue and white dot, the other Landrover.

Your mission for today - should you wish to accept it - is to further dig out these sleeper beds, deep enough to accept the new sleeper and its chair, all of which must still fit under the rail without lifting it.

The ground was frozen, but harder than the light frost was the cement like compaction of 40 years train travel, on a poorly drained base (from the early days of course).

Jack and Neil here are doing just that - digging out the beds as a first stage to reinserting the replacements.

We then settled down to +/- two teams, one inserting the new sleepers and chairing them up, the other team following on behind and applying the Panlock keys.

Bert Ferrule here is tightening the chair screws with the impact wrench, while Stevie (in yellow) is tweaking the sleeper into a better position, parallel to its neighbour.

This shot shows the frost on every sleeper. Not so thick, but enough to hide the crosses we put on the ones that need replacing.

The shallow cutting here never saw much sun during the day; the best the sun could do was slide along the top of the cutting, leaving a long dark shadow so that the frost remained in the ground on the left.

When enough beds had been dug out for the day, Stevie went to collect the first bundle of new sleepers. As we have only a tiny budget, these are actually left over from the Toddington relay last year.

At one point Stevie actually got out of his cab to shove one in (sleeper nips not required by him) and this rare event was captured by a passing camera.

So yes, he does get out of his nice warm cab sometimes. Here's proof.

This sleeper looked half decent at first sight, but in fact has holes that have worn oval, which allows the gauge to spread and generally move around. It was dug out and replaced.

Playing pick up sticks at home or with a wheelbarrow on the trackside has the same conclusion in either case - disaster!

When Chris put the heavy Pan puller on top of everything else, it went.

Dang - all you can do now is give up, and go back to the mess coach and have your lunch.

After lunch there was a further surge of activity, with the whole team now well spread out along the affected stretch of track. But in fact this shows how well we were doing today. Counting from the group in the foreground and then back to the tunnel mouth, 54 sleepers had been changed and keyed up at this point, mid afternoon. More were in preparation, and more were completed post camera shot. We think we are something over half way now.

In fact mid afternoon Stevie had to go and get another pack of new sleepers, and distribute them with Jack here along the line.

Note the wet patch again, a place where Steve got stuck last week while unloading from the bogie flat.

Our last shot of the day, with the 'younger' members of the team (young - ha!) still hard at it.

In the background is the curve before the straight leading to the former Gretton halt.

On that subject, a bit of history, for here is a picture of one of the original oil lamps that used to be fixed to the back of the platform at Gretton.

It's quite a find. There were only 4 of them, and it's the first time we have seen one. It's from the former Winchcombe railway museum, currently not operating and hence a private collection.

It's odd that the halt at Hayles Abbey used hurricane lamps hanging from a hook, a much cheaper and less appealing option.

Saturday 11 January 2020

Work starts at Greet.

Friday at Broadway.

A morning of errands in the Transit. First to our friendly joiner at Willersey, then on to Broadway, then to Toddington, then to Broadway again, then back to Winchcombe.

At the end of it we had these tread covers for the footbridge.

They are new, and anti-slip.

Then it was on with the carpentry and associated bits.

Normally Neal is still on the other side, but while some of the bits he was working with are being painted, he made a start on the Cotswolds side.

Painting of bits of timber continued up on the centre span, and outside the containers. There's lots of it, back and forth for fitting, more preservation fluid applied, back for fitting and another cut with the saw etc.
The mornings are still black as ever, but the evenings are perceptibly lighter suddenly. Mid afternoon, which was dark just a couple of weeks ago, still had enough light for carrying on, so three mugs of warming tea were made for the gang to keep them going.

The tea was drunk quickly and gratefully, then straight back to work.

Here you can see that Neal is doing the bottoms along the other side, while John is drilling holes for them along the stringer.
The last picture of the day shows Neal stepping back to admire the day's handiwork. We'd like this all to be finished by the second quarter, but it's hard to put a firm date on it. But we are on the job 3 times a week, so progress is steady.

Saturday at Greet

Off to the new work site outside Greet tunnel!

Dodging the remaining puddles from the amazing downpour Thursday evening, we loaded up two Landies with 'sleeper digging out' tools et cetera.

To the right is the pile of new softwood sleepers that will replace them. But they are here, and we want them there. How is that going to work then?

We set off in convoi to Working Lane at Greet, where we have a new useful access point, a long and very rough track that slowly rises up alongside the high embankment until it reaches the track, near the back of the Royal Oak pub (which we can recommend, by the way, it has a view of our passing trains).

Once on site we split into two teams. Team one was on ferrule replacing duty.

Along this section there are 70 sleepers that need replacing during this low season, and numerous chair screws are either proud, or have missing/ rotted away ferrules, still made of wood from days gone by. Today we use plastic ones.

This chair screw here is a typical example. It's not doing its job of tightly securing the rail to the sleeper.

Chair screws were removed, old ferrules dug out (with some difficulty, the tool provided was not that useful), then replaced with new, and finally the impact wrench followed to tighten everything up again.

Team 1 1/2 was Stevie in the JCB, who worked on his own digging and then dragging out the sleepers marked with a cross a few weeks ago.

The JCB saves us so much work, it's a thankless task digging out sleepers.

Team 2 was on actual sleeper replacement. Initially, and without the vital supply of new sleepers still at Winchcombe, they prepared the empty beds left by Stevie. In the picture above you can see a whole row of them. Team 2 was working from the tunnel mouth onwards.

Eventually there was a toot and we were delighted to see that the C&W yard shunter was bearing gifts: lots of new sleepers on a bogie flat!

Finally we can get to the real job in hand.

'Do you have doughnuts in your canteen?'
The sleeper delivery stopped by Stevie, who you can see exchanging a few kind words with the engine crew.

Shortly after that Stevie manoeuvered himself into position and started lifting off the stacks of new sleepers.

Bob the second man watched, no doubt glad for the opportunity for something different from shunting carriages around the yard.

After a while the constant scraping of ballast, and lifting the weighty impact wrench got to the ferrule team, and we see them here having a secret little rest (team 2 being out of sight around the bend).

As it was a bit cumbersome to return back to the mess coach for lunch, it was agreed beforehand that we would bring a picnic and eat al fresco on site.

It certainly was fresco, there was a fresh breeze, and a black cloud over Breedon Hill slowly came closer and closer and dumped a lot of drizzle on us.

We had nowhere to sit, so lunch for most was taken standing up. Then it was back to work.

We took both Landies down a very bumpy track indeed to the tunnel mouth.

Some weighty items like cast iron chairs and baskets of track fastenings are not ideal for carrying a long way along the track.

Here team 2 was busy dragging in the new sleepers one by one. Sadly you cannot just drag out the old sleeper, and drag back in the new. The bed has to be lowered with hand digging, otherwise the chair will not fit back on top and under the rail.

Teams 1 and 2 now combined and wriggled the chairs back under the rails on top of the new sleepers, then replaced the old ferrules and bolted down the new screws.

In the background Stevie has laid out a whole row of replacement sleepers, each one in its correct spot.

It was nice to see by the way that many of our quarter mile posts are now authentic, with a proper wooden top, cast letters and the whole thing attached to a GWR bridge rail. Hope you guys out there notice them.

Last but not least, we completed the resleepering in the tunnel mouth area with the impact wrench, and in the foreground you can see the glistening sleepers just dragged in and fitted with chairs.

We think we did about a dozen sleepers out of the 70 to do today. That is a very good start, in particular if you consider that team 1 did not help with the actual sleeper work until after lunch.

Back next week. Fingers crossed that it doesn't snow!

Saturday 4 January 2020

Work starts at Stanway

Friday on the viaduct

An early call to arms came, to get an extra day in for lifting the track off the viaduct, in preparation for drainage works to be undertaken on it by a contractor.

Eight volunteers made it, which is an excellent turnout, given the midweek day and short notice.

We loaded a lot of equipment into the two Landies, you never know what you might need, and the Stanway viaduct is kinda in the middle of nowhere. It's a mile from the nearest road, and you can't just go and get the rail saw when you suddenly need it.

Near the viaduct we built up a pallet with sides and trollied it out to the site.

Steve had a good go at releasing all the fishplates, and we were lucky that none of the bolts were seized (we had brought the rail saw just in case).

Nigel provides a helpful boot to stop the bolt heads from spinning. You can't do this job on your own.

A small group went on ahead and knocked out the Pandrol clips. There are over 100 of them in each length, so that's a lot of knocking, then bending down to pick up the loose clips and walk them to the pallet on the trolley.

The viaduct has 9 panels of track on it, and our job was to remove 11 in total, with two extra ones at each end.

The viaduct seemed very long, but the weather got sunnier and sunnier and before we knew it, the de-clipping had reached the far side.

The 60 foot lengths of rail were taken out and stacked at opposite ends of the viaduct.

Lunch was very pleasant. Picnic only, it's a long walk back to transport and then back to Winchcombe. In the lee of the parapet and in the sunshine it's perfectly do-able to sit and eat outside. Unless you sat on a rail; there's a lot of cold built up in a ton of steel and your bottom is not warm enough to absorb it all.

'D' marks the spot - here is one of the drains that the contractor will be uncovering. There's one for each arch, and currently all the drainage pits are buried under the track, which is one of the things that the contractor will remedy. We need to be able to visit the drains regularly and make sure that they are working. As things are today, and because the tops are buried, that is not possible.

At the end of the day we were well over half way, with a second day of work arranged for Saturday.

Saturday at Stanway.

Lots of work to do today, to dry and clear the remaining pieces of track from the top of the viaduct. We've got half the rails still to remove, and all the sleepers.

Luckily the turnout was quite good - 14 of us.

The first thing to do was scrounge round the yard to find all the bearers we could muster, for the 260 or so sleepers we will need to store.

John here already has an armful.

But what are those two gang members doing in the metal recycling skip?

Here we are at the start of the job, lifting up the first of the sleepers at the northern end. We're going to be putting them in two +/- equal piles at opposite ends of the viaduct. That gives us more flexibility when it comes to relaying everything.

We tried a couple of different methods for lifting out the sleepers. This is the 'scoop 'em out' method, where the Telehandler digs in to retrieve half a dozen or so, but all intermingled with ballast.

A cleaner method was to lift them out by hand, and put them into small stacks, ready for the Telehandler to remove. That made things a lot easier for the stacking team. But then again much harder for the lifters, as each of the 260 odd sleepers had to be lifted manually with nips.

Between deliveries, the stackers could ponder the meaning of life. Dave in the distance was picking up the next load with the Telehandler.

Here's the sleeper removal team.

You can see how they pulled the sleepers out with nips, and then stacked them in a small pile in the foreground, for an easy pick up by Dave.

Hard work though.

Having picked up a load, Dave the reversed down the bridge, round the pile of rails and on to the growing stack in the distance.

As the day progressed the sun came out, but the sky remained moody and inky clouds swirled around over the site.

This is the view towards Stanton, where the fresh ballast is stored for the drainage job on the viaduct.

Soon we had a respectable length of cleared trackbed.

The drainage pits of interest to the maintenance job (starting in a week's time) are right in the middle, underneath where Steve is walking here. they are currently buried under the ballast, but were visible when this was double track.

At the southern end we set up the second temporary storage site. Half of the rails have already been placed here, and the second sleeper pile is about to be built a little beyond the stop block on the end of the north carriage siding out of Toddington.

After we had stored about half of the sleepers at the northern end, we moved to the southern end to join the gang there that was also just starting the same job.

It looked for a while as if this could stretch into a third day, but with the whole gang concentrating on the second half of the sleepers, we suddenly accelerated.

We had two teams now on the same job - Dave in the Telehandler and stacking, with a second team lifting out sleepers and making stacks of 8, even 12, for him to take straight away.

Behind us to the north, about 50 sleepers left to lift, and further on, the second half of the viaduct, now completely cleared.

The sky continued to look angry, but it spared us, we remained dry and despite the clouds overhead, often in the sun in the latter half of the day.

The same stretch of remaining sleepers, now looking south. Stevie in the JCB and a team of 4 pull out and stack the sleepers, roughly in the middle of this big, 15 arch viaduct.

Nearly there now, as Nigel directs Dave in the Telehandler to come nearer, so that we can load him up. Then all he has to do is drive it to the storage stack at the south end.

Tim, Pete and Peter enjoy the moment of fame.
And here we are, the last sleeper. We did it after all! Everything removed in two working days. Mind, it won't be that fast when we have to put it all together again.

Now to tidy up and drive home. The sun has dropped behind the horizon, and light will now fade quickly. Just the tools to collect, and the convoy will head back home.

Now it's over to the bridge gang to use the space that we have created for them. We will be moving to the southern end of Greet tunnel for our next project.