Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Ballasting the new track

A start was made today with ballasting the first 200m of new track laid. We have 6 Dogfish, and these were filled at our  ballast depot at Stanton and brought out by the class 73.

The train was pushed carefully over the headshunt beyond the loop, and then on to the new track laid, up to the footpath crossing at the start of the curve in the distance.

On board the 'SHARK' brake van, Steve and Rick are discussing today's  planned manoeuvres. Behind them you can see the recently repaired embankment on the left, and the reinstated track immediately in front. This forms part of the Laverton Loop headshunt, a piece of track that will need to be replaced as part of the extension works.

A bit further along, it is easier to see the difference between the temporary headshunt, and the start of new track laying.

The headshunt this side of the loop was roughly laid around 2011 in a slightly lighter rail, which will be replaced with the standard rail we are using for the definite extension. There is no ballast at all here, so we progress very gingerly.

The ballast train is parked so that the first Dogfish is on the start of the curve. A full hopper will treat 1 1/2 track panels, so we need to be about 10 panels away from the start, and work back.

The other way, in the curve towards Broadway, is at this point not quite ready to receive ballast, as there are still some remains from the welding crews in the four foot, and a number of sleepers at each weld need repositioning and straightening.

With the train stationary, the plough is lowered, and all the centre doors on the Dogfish are opened at once. Some of the ballast falls out, but is soon stopped by the pile that builds up underneath. The train is then pulled over the stretch that needs ballasting. You can see this here:

This is the view from the rear - all the ballast has been dropped, and the SHARK plough has pushed the excess over the rails and outside the sleeper ends. In the distance the newly laid track curves to the right towards Little Buckland, and Broadway beyond. The embankment has been cleared, and there is new fencing down both sides. A lot of work and expense has already gone into this area, but is not well known about.

Looking the other way, towards Laverton Loop, we can see the temporary headshunt undulating in the weeds. The empty train will now return to Stanton for refilling with fresh ballast, which takes about 2 hours.

The small gang of 5 today take this 2 hour gap to prepare the next piece for ballasting, the curve towards Little Buckland.

After the sleepers have been checked and adjusted for positioning, the alignment is improved by little tweaks with the JCB here and there.

One guy doing, two guys giving orders - well, isn't it always like that ?

Dave and Peter point which way the track has to move. Many times they agreed with each other too.

Behind them is the piece that was ballasted an hour earlier.

With the curve reasonably kink free, we sat down for a brief lunch. Not a good place to do this, here. The wind whistled down off the Cotswolds today, and the ice cold rail, when sat upon, has an amazing ability to soak all the heat out of your backside.

Meanwhile, back at Stanton, the train has been refilled with fresh ballast. Unfortunately we lost our loco driver in the afternoon, so this drop on the curve will be for another day.

The JCB then moved up to Little Buckland to clear the area, just south of the bridge, where a pipe running through the embankment has to be replaced, as it has collapsed in the middle. Another one of those unseen jobs, but they have to be done. Good working drainage is crucial on this line along the Cotswold edge.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The welders are back

Haigh Rail have come back to weld up the 16 lengths we laid on the 400 sleepers.

It was a blustery day, with an almost cloudless sky. What you don't see in the picture was the short but very wet downburst at lunchtime, which the lucky few sat out in the backs of their vans. Not every crew was so lucky!

There are about 30 welds to be done on this stretch, and today saw two thirds of the job completed - they will be back tomorrow morning to finish off the rest.

These two pictures show the gang cutting a rail end off to achieve the correct welding gap, and the second shows the rail grinder being used to smooth off the excess after a hydraulic cutter has taken off the worst bits. Long views across the Evesham vale extend into the background.

One  of these hydraulic cutters can be seen in the foreground here, with a second weld waiting to be done on the left. Other welds that have been done are represented by the silver tubs that stretch out into the distance. These are the remains of the single use crucibles that most of the teams were using (there were several on site today). Little Buckland bridge is in the distance where the silver car is parked. The space without sleepers includes the area of a broken drainage pipe that passes under the trackbed, and which needs replacing by digging out. Any further sleeper laying will be limited by the hole that will be dug there for a while.

Looking the other way, we can see the team in action that started at the Laverton end of the 16 lengths. In the distance is the PWay relaying train, and nearer to the camera is the multi use crucible in action, temporarily turned to one side while the blow torch heats up the rail ends with the characteristic 'Vee' of exhausting flames.

The crucible is then swung into place, and lit - stand well clear ! A little mini-volcano at work.

This shows the northern end of the rail welding job, with Andy Smith of the PWay gang in discussion with one of the crews. A small number of PWay volunteers is needed to accompany the crews to provide logistical support, and tidy up the site afterwards.

Here is what you get after welding say 20 joints. Lots of empty single use crucibles, left over blocks of molten Aluminium, bits of excess molten steel, foundry sand, sharp bits of wire and packaging material. Just about  a van full today - well done Andy for clearing all this up. It will be sorted at Winchcombe to go into a skip or be recycled where practical.

The flail was at work again and has made great progress. The stretch up to Little Buckland is now done, and most of the next stretch to Broadway seems clear now too. Great stuff!

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Contract clearance

Once again, activity could be seen down the trackbed from Broadway today, and a quick tour of inspection after completing a job on the SB tunnel roof showed that a 360 equipped with a flail was busy on the Cotswold side embankment just north of Pry Lane bridge.

In fact the contractor, employed to make the shape of the embankment north of Little Buckland visible for inspection, had alread cleared quite a stretch of the Malvern side, and was working his way back south. On the right of the picture is the sewage works at the end of Pry Lane, Malvern side.

The machine is a regular 360 excavator, fitted with a special flail attachment. With the wing wall of Pry lane bridge just visible on the right, we see the machine here repeatedly dropping the flail on to the brushwood and reducing it to tiny bits.

Yours truly once helped to clear a modest 5m stretch of this embankment to reveal a culvert below, and can testify to the difficulty of standing on a 45 degree slope of rolling ballast, and dragging prickly bits of Hawthorn back to the top. This machine is a Godsend.

On seeing us approach with great caution, the driver of the machine paused to let us nearer, and stopped briefly to tell us a bit more about the job.

This flail attachment is a very modern piece of kit, with an up to the minute piece of design. The teeth are tipped in tungsten steel, but nonetheless a couple have already lost the battle with tough pieces of ancient Brunel bridge rail hidden in the undergrowth.

Telegraph pole guy rope holders left in the ground after the demolition train were initially also an enemy of the flail, but the learning curve has been steep and the operator now knows where to expect them every 50 yards, even if invisible in the bramble.

The teeth are of course replaceable, being bolted on. But not cheap.

A peep across Pry lane bridge shows that most of the Malvern side has already been done, here revealing a wooden PWay hut that is asking to become someone's pet project for attention.

Looking back towards Broadway, the Malvern side is clear but for some more recent growth near the Childswickham Road bridge (this area has already been cleared once, but the self seeded trees quickly regrow). Broadway goods shed is in the middle.

A final picture from the PWay gang yesterday - they were out with a ballast train and dropped +/- 100 tons of ballast at Gotherington in support of the maintenance tamping that has taken place in that area. The dropped ballast was then 'sharked' using this 'Shark' brake van to distribute it evenly along the line using a specially shaped plough slung under the van. The big wheel in the foreground (after many, many turns) drops the plough down to rail level, and, eventually, back up. A wonderful piece of Victoriana, and still useful today. We are a museum after all. The bridge in the picture is 'Working Lane' bridge, a charming name and one which refers to the nearby former the navvy village at the southern end of Greet tunnel.

On the extension side welding of rail lengths recently laid is due to take place next week, while at Skew Bridge at Gotherington a further pile of 400 sleepers is being extracted, sorted and stacked, ready for loading and transport to Little Buckland.

Friday, 20 November 2015

The next steps

A day out with the tamper yesterday, and a useful chat with the PWay gang.

There don't appear to be any images around of this tamper at work, so here's a little report, and an extension update. The tamper is an 07 and it's been hired in to do regular maintenance on the running line, working north from CRC. Yesterday it had reached Gotherington, where we tamped the loop, then worked further north to the overbridge beyond the sleeper depot at Skew Bridge.

The job was to fill in the voids in the ballast left by the tamping tines. Looks simple enough, you just follow the slowly moving tamper and shovel ballast into any holes. However, after an hour of non-stop shovelling your muscles start to complain loudly, and that rain forecast to ease off during the morning just hasn't ! The march of the tamper is relentless, and after 5 hours, and perhaps a mile later, we were pretty much exhausted.

There is a brief respite between runs, as the tamper passes over the next stretch to be done and measures it. The data is stored and acted upon during the actual tamping run.

This picture taken during one of the measuring runs shows the second man and recording screen with up to 4 variables visible.

Ideally, a team of 6 on the shovels is needed each day during the week. Thursday looked a bit bare, with only 3  PWay crew registered (or still fit after working Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday!) so two members from BAG came down to help on a BAG non-working day.

Having tamped one side of Gotherington loop, and completed the second half of the other, the machine skipped Gotherington platform (we tend not to tamp within stations, in order to avoid raising the trackbed) and continued north thereafter, reaching this bridge at the end of the day, when the light began to fail.

A grateful member of the gang climbs into the cab, which is dry and well heated. It even has a little grill to heat your lunch! We were then given a lift home to Winchcombe, and Toddington.

There isn't much room on board - three seats at one end, two in the other - but those in the driving end on the return journey got this view of Greet tunnel. Who knew it had such a long curve in it?

After this week, the tamper will return in March to complete the job along the rest of the running line.

Extension update:
The extension railhead is now within a stone's throw of Little Buckland bridge, maybe 6 panels to go. We now have the opportunity of winter maintenance during the short few months when normal trains don't run, so expect to see the PWay gang out along the main running line instead. Currently they are moving a point into a more logical position outside the loco shed at Toddington, and in January and February they will be relaying the platform 2 road at Winchcombe, and the southern part of platform 1. This ties in neatly with the B & S project to lengthen platform 1, and some of the spent ballast will be used as infill there behind the new wall now being built.

Trains start running again in March, so the Winchcombe relay needs to be completed by then. In the meantime, contractors will be replacing a damaged drain that crosses under the extension trackbed just short of Little Buckland bridge, and this is in the way of the 6 panels, so they can't be laid until that job is done. A culvert near Peasebrook Farm also needs closer investigation, as it has a tree growing on top of it. The trackbed has been neglected for 40 years, and no doubt little was done to maintain it in the closing days, so you can imagine that we can't just clear the undergrowth and start laying rail. There'll be quite a lot of 'civils' before we get to that stage.

What is perhaps less well known is that the final lengths of the Laverton extension also need relaying, from a point at a CWR 'breather' south of the loop, through the loop and into a headshunt north of it, latterly used to store the PWay relaying train. The slightly lighter rail used here was laid during a period of financial constraint, and while it is suitable for station confines, it needs to be replaced with heavier, main line quality when the loop is taken out. This will take place from March onwards, when the loop is removed, ready for transfer to Broadway. Initially, the materials will be stored, not taken to Broadway immediately. Hence the next purchase of new rail, a question often asked, will be for this stretch, from the southern Laverton 'breather' to the start of the extension. The rail being replaced is not wasted, but will be used at Broadway for the station loop and northern sidings. We will then have a high quality, new CWR line all along the extension.

The rail head in 2012 at Laverton, which still needs upgrading with heavier rail.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Along the last mile

After a day's work at Broadway, there was a window for a quick walk down the trackbed to Peasebrook Farm bridge today. This was prompted by the sight, from the end of Broadway platform, of headlights in the distance. What could that be?

It turned out to be the Saturday clarance gang, so here are some pictures taken along the walk.

This pictures shows the uncleared part of the Broadway extension, with the newly ballasted trackbed in the distance, and clearance gang member's cars parked topside. The smoke emanates from a new section just started by the gang.

You can just make out the JCB near Little Buckland bridge in the far distance.

Peeping round the corner by the blue car we can see a well cleared area, and we get a better appreciation of the height of the embankment at this point.

Our neighbours were certainly enjoying themselves down there in the mud!

Passing the clearance gang by the blue car, a second group was cutting down the larger ash trees that were too big for the first gang.

That sawn wood is not being wasted either, some of the gang members have woodburners, and these logs are a fitting reward for their efforts. Clearance is pretty hard work.

Bridge 4 and Peasebrook Farm are just visible behind the trees.

This view is as close to the ballast head as I got, as a phone call called me back to Broadway for a discussion on Signal Box stoves...

Turning round the other way, back towards Broadway a short mile away, you can see the large stretch of embankment recently opened out by the gang.

We are having contractors in as well to support them, and they complimented the Saturday gang's work on this big site. Well done, guys!

Walking back to Broadway, the old goods shed quickly comes into sight again.

The embankment remains very high on this stretch, but the freshly sprouted vegetation hides the sewage works that are located here on the left.

Just for interest, a couple of other shots taken yesterday:

This shows how far our ballast contractors got on Friday. The picture was taken standing on bridge 5 at Little Buckland, looking towards Broadway. The Terram now stretches all the way along phase 2, from this bridge to the next one, bridge 4 at Peasebrook Farm. A small bit of work will complete this exercise on Monday, and the contractor is moving on to another job.

There is still some work to do to excavate and repair a salt glazed pipe under the trackbed that was discovered here, crushed in the middle.

At Winchcombe, the ballast train stood silently on platform 2, as Cheltenham Race Trains rumbled past through platform 1, hauled  by 2807.

This ballast will be used next week to support the tamper that is doing the running line, starting from CRC and working north.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Sixth day of ballasting

The ballast line from Peasebrook Farm gets ever nearer. Today saw the back broken of this job, as we joined up the line heading southwards with the short stretch north of the ballast pile. At last, nearly 800m done.

Wednesday we had a day off from ballasting, but the quarry did not, and this morning 200 tons of new ballast delivered yesterday sat there to greet us. Here is the 360 making itself a path through to the end, in order to start loading the dumper in the foreground. It was a beautiful day, and quite windstill. That would soon change, but we were ignorant at that point. We started making serious inroads into this new pile, bringing the ballasted Terram further south, round the bend and giving ever shorter trips to the dumping site. You can now make out the white strip of Terram marking the tipping site at this point.

At lunch time, our mobile site hut in the form of our Estate Manager's car arrived. By this time, Steve was starting to ready the area of the former pile close to the bridge, so that we could lay Terram here too. It will be the last stretch in this area.

We snuggled down in the Freelander, and enjoyed cups of coffee from his warming flask.

After lunch, as we got out of the car again, the weather had changed. Clouds were skidding across the sky, and a strong wind was making its presence felt. The dust from the newly delivered ballast was so strong that Adam had to close all the windows in the 360 to keep it out.

Yours truly had no windows, so decided to stand upwind from the source.

Even more ballast then arrived, perhaps 220t in total. Steve is having a chat with the driver as to where the next load should go. What we don't want is double handling when this stretch, where the stockpile is, is also laid out with Terram. In the background the stretch that is now ready extends into the distance, round the rest of the bend. The grey silo just visible belongs to the sewage farm at Pry Lane.

This shot shows how the ballasted section from Peasebroook Farm has now indeed joined up with the area of the ballast pile. That just leaves 100m to do under the area of the stockpile. Steve is fine tuning the levels in the background, necessitating an occasional extra trip by the dumper where a low spot has been found. He also made sure that the down line is suitable for vehicles to use.

Suddenly, there was a burst of sunlight out of the clouds. It can be very beautiful here, if the weather is friendly. Steve is pottering around in the background fine tuning the levels, while the 360 in the foreground deals with the diminishing stockpile found this morning.

Another ray of sunlight penetrated the increasingly threatening clouds above. We had just laid down this stretch of Terram, when a gust came up and whipped it sideways.  There followed a scramble for any bricks, rocks, anything heavy that we could scrounge from the undergrowth to weigh it down until we got some ballast down on it. The Terram has to be laid fairly accurately, because the tracks laid on top tend to follow it.

A look south shows the last roll of Terram now started by the bridge. The sky turned an angry dark blue, but the rain held off, and we stayed dry.

Tomorrow may see this job finished, or possibly Monday. The crew doing the ballasting will be back down to 2 again, as yours truly is doing a trip to Crewe tomorrow to fetch a newly acquired diesel tank for the railway. We should be able to enjoy the Staffordshire countryside at leisure, as we crawl down the M6 on a Friday afternoon, but the company will be good.

See you next time.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Fifth day of ballasting

Slowly the newly ballasted section from Peasebrook Farm gets longer.We put in another good day of dumping today, bringing the end of the ballasted section to within a stone's throw (!) of the supply pile at Little Buckland bridge.

The tree marks the half way point,and you can see that at the start of the day we are well past it. It was breezy today, with the forecast giving 'moderate to strong' winds. We had strong. There is no shelter in the Vale, with the trackbed at this point on a rising embankment so we were well exposed. OK for Steve in his nice warm cab, and his parting advice to yours truly, before he set off to grade the piles, was to reverse back to the ballast pile, because going forwards as before exposed the driver to a sandstorm of sharp dust particles. And it was true - one forward return trip was enough, the others were in reverse. Steve knows best!

Filming the dust wasn't easy, maybe this shot gives an impression during loading?

The other issue with the wind is that the Terram won't stay down. You roll it out by kicking it along some...

... then turn round to go back to the beginning, and this happens. Dang ! Originally we were given a set of giant staples with which to spike down the Terram, but in practice this didn't work very well (staples bent, or wouldn't go in due to stony underground) so we took to using lumps of anything we could find along the way to weigh it down.

Finally you find yourself on your hands and knees, trying to keep the stuff down - it has a mind of its own, and keeps ballooning up.

A clearance contractor was on site as well, strimming the fence line ready for a larger flail machine to do the embankment side.

Lunch was taken on the hoof (there is no site hut) but coffee was in the luxurious and warm interior of the company Estates Manager's 4x4, which drops in daily for a visit and a chat. Hot drinks were provided too, and 1980s copies of the GWSR bulletin for perusal. Fascinating stuff, did you know there had once been a derailment at Toddington of two locos at once? A steam crane from Gloucester soon got them back on the rails, but while waiting for it to arrive a visiting area manager suggested they drive themselves back on. Well, that didn't happen.

We laid about 100m of ballast today, until we ran out of supplies. Yes, the long pile has now gone, all ferried up towards bridge 4, six tons at a time. No quarry lorries came to us today, they were needed to resupply the ballast train at Stanton. With a bit of luck we can bag some more tomorrow, so that we can carry on ballasting on Thursday (the JCB being required at Broadway tomorrow). Here Steve is spreading out the last bits of it. The bit we have done over the last 5 days stretches out into the distance, about 500m of it. 300m to go behind the camera.

.... talking of which, we could just turn round and show you. This is how far we got today, the ballast pile is (was) by the 360 in the distance. That next roll of Terram should reach there nicely.

Two more shots form the ballast pile end for you:

On the left is a bit of trackbed with a small amount of ballast on it already, but it needs more. It was only put there, in a hurry, to narrow the pile to let vehicles pass through.

...and the other way - this is where the supply pile was. Although more ballast is expected in, we will eventually have to lay Terram here too, and cover it with the required 8 inches.

Finally, a plug for a new Blog set up yesterday. It's for our valiant little Building and Services department, who are relatively little known, yet who have built so much around the railway. Check them out, see what you think, and you might even like to join them?

Here is the link: