Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Scraping a living

On Monday work continued to remove from the trackbed in the cutting at Winchcombe the remaining spent ballast.

The temperature has risen a bit now and the days are a bit longer too, but the mornings remain grey and dark, and some things are reluctant to start.

We have developed measures for that!

An 'Easy Start' for both man and machine.

The dumper was most reluctant yesterday, having run out of fuel and supplied without a bleeder valve in the fuel system. We got it going eventually, see also the jump leads in the background.

Once both machines were up and running - and the operators pepped up with caffeine - we dug out the remaining trackbed between the newly attached crossing, and the end of the plain line relaid from the tunnel.

The area cleared can be seen on the left, with the double platform track and crossing behind, and the switch 'parked' in the foreground.

The switch now needs to be moved left a bit, and up to the crossing. The whole area is now clear to put the remaining rail in, and Wednesday will see a continuation of that, together with a visit from the welders to weld up every other gap.

Having cleared the trackbed for relaying, we moved on to the down line leading up to the tunnel. This still has the spent ballast excavated from the bed of the up line on the left, which was relaid earlier this month.

The spent ballast from the down line was also taken up to the new access road being built to Working Lane.

This area is very boggy indeed; the deep gouges in the forground witness where Steve nearly got the JCB stuck.

Working Lane is still some distance away (on the other side of the patch of green in the distance). The spent ballast won't stretch as far as that, but we will have made a good start, and we're saving the railway money.

Eleven trips - 99 tons of ballast, can we say 100? - were taken up there yesterday. Half way through the day Steve came up to spread out the piles tipped by the dumper.

Dark clouds are building up over the hills in the background, a portent of yet more rain which came during the night.

A drain parallel with the trackbed on the left has been moved to the other, right hand side of the track, but the area of the former drain is very spongy now, and swallows up what we dump on it. It needs plenty of infill to make a good surface.

Here you can see the progress with the track, as it zig-zags over a new culvert which takes the drain to the other side of the track.

The roadway in the foreground, tipped a few days ago, is already much more stable and is expected to become quite hard in due course.

The pine trees and church spire in the distance stand in Gretton village, which is crossed by the railway on a long, tall embankment.

The total distance from the worksite at Winchcombe to the tipping area by the track is about a mile, a 20 minute round trip. This is why we opted for the biggest dumper possible. While it is on its journey, Steve takes the opportunity to scrape the trackbed level and prepare piles of ballast, which can then easily be scooped into the dumper.

On one of its 34 shuttles so far, the dumper comes to the end of its trip through the tunnel. The visibility inside is quite good, thanks to the battery of lights on the front.

Tunnel pictures with thanks to Stuart Hamilton
The dumper emerges from the tunnel towards the end of the day. We are about half way up the down line to be excavated here, and think that another day, or day-and-a-half, should see this job ticked off the list.

Relay work and welding will continue on Wednesday.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A Christmas dinner

Yes, it's a month late. But Christmas dinner for the Saturday gang was cooked today by Paul and Jim, and it attracted a larger than usual crowd. And so it should, it was a gastronomic tour de force!

But first things first.

Yesterday, a small team of two (briefly assisted by a third) moved the crossing that was still in place, and so liberated the spent ballast under it, so that it could be taken away and the site completely cleared.

The crossing was lifted up on the forks of the JCB and the Telehandler, and inched further up the trackbed, and to one side (to allow passing site vehicles)

Underneath the crossing was the spent ballast, which was then scraped off and carried away to the new access road being made at the Gretton end of the tunnel.

We did 7 such trips yesterday, say 63 tons worth.
The trackbed north of the bracket signal is now clear and ready for relaying the extended double track, and the repositioned turnout.

More ballast removal is required south of the bracket signal, and this will be addressed on Monday.

Coming out of the gloom of the tunnel at the Gretton end, this is what you can see.

To the right of the tall signal post is the flat area which was once the site of the navvy village.

There's a bit of water seepage at this end; the rest of the tunnel is pretty dry.

Beyond the tunnel the line straightens out into a long, long straight.

How disheartening it must have been for the pioneer GWSR track layers at the start of this, faced with an empty trackbed, and so much to lay, with the next curve never seeming to get any nearer.

At Gretton, the new roadway is slowly getting longer. There's a long way to go still, there is probably not enough spent ballast to do it all but we will make a good start.

From time to time Steve comes up in the JCB to level out the dumped piles, an make the roadway wider and flatter.

That was Friday then. Today, Saturday, the regular gang arrived at the cutting in Winchcombe, the tools loaded on to a trolley, to find the site up to the bracket signal cleared and ready to go.

The crossing has been pushed further up and to the left; the switch is up under the signal at the back. Our plan today was to fill this area with track.

In total we put in 5 panels of track today, and laid two longer rails in at the start, so this basically gives you the extra length of the loop now.

The logistics of the relay need some careful thinking and preparation. We first laid the down line, and in this picture you can see Steve giving it a 'tweak' to get the curve right.

Rails for the up line have also been laid in position, in anticipation of the new sleepers going in here.

We are re-using the rails that were here before (with some rearrangements) and we will therefore have bullhead track on cast iron chairs. It was amusing to see that the rail itself is marked GWR 95 1/4 and 12-1936, being the weight and date of manufacture. Still original stuff.

Steve travelled up and down a number of times, dragging short rails hither and long rails thither.

'Bert Ferrule' is catching this on his camera, check it out on Nigel's Flickr site too:


We made a big dent in this pile of new sleepers today, which is good news. Progress is still on schedule.

A sub-gang followed up with keying and fishplating. It's tricky getting those Mills keys in, they are very elastic and often jump out to bury themselves in your shins. Ouch !

In the foreground is an insulated joint; this is the furthest the locomotive may travel on the platform road in future, unless given permission to do so.

With the two platform roads now extended by two panels each, it was time to think about putting the crossing in its place. Here it is being jacked up to release those timbers that have been noted for replacement.

By common accord it was suddenly lunchtime, and there was a fast walk, not quite a run, towards the mess coach and the long expected Christmas dinner.

The kitchen was hot and humming with activity. The timing was perfect; we arrived just as the plates we being filled for the 16 participants.

How's this for a tempting meal:

Roast pork, stuffing, Yorkshire pud, grilled potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips, carrots and sprouts.

Crackling to one side, a mug of hot tea, and a pint pot of gravy between two tables.

When you had downed all that, there was an additional surprise:

Mrs. B's amazing Christmas cake! The marzipan was at least an inch thick all round, and the whole construction was surrounded by a string of green marzipan balls ('have you got green balls?')

Although the pundits had it that there was unlikely to be any work possible after the Christmas dinner, we did manage it too. We laid another panel in, and attached the crossing to the down line.

Our relaid trackwork from platform 1 now reaches the designated future place for the crossing, so late in the day Steve was able to nudge and drag it up to the plain track just laid.

Having pushed it northwards 5 or 6 feet from its previous parking place to one side, Steve then nudged it sideways, so that the crossing lined up with the plain line. This was then quickly fishplated up, and the up line crowbarred into position - or almost - ready for cutting to size next time.

This was the dirtiest job of the day - fitting the fishplates, after first smearing black grease around the rail in question.

All the grease was used up at the end of the day, so they must have put on a lot of fishplates - well done !

The closing shot at the end of the day, the cutting already in the shadows and the setting sun reflected in the gathering clouds above, shows the great progress made today. The extended loop is now in place, and the crossing of the repositioned turnout bolted on to the end of it.

The welders will be with us on Wednesday, to join the rails up again at Bishop's Cleeve, and at Winchcombe to weld every other joint in the section leding to the tunnel.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A cold tunnel

Two pople were in the cutting at Winchcombe today, to make a start on digging out the spoilt ballast from the area of the relaid double track, and relocated turnout. We were armed with a JCB, and a 9T dumper.

The intention with the ballast is to kill two birds with one stone. Make ready the bed for the turnout, and use the spent ballast at the Gretton end of the tunnel to make an approach road to the formation from Working Lane.
We hired in the largest dumper we could get, and asked for one with lights, so that we could take it through the tunnel. In the picture above, you can see it emerging from the tunnel. In the foreground is half of the turnout, in its approximate new position lengthways, but not yet widthways. It needs to move right a few feet to avoid a clash with the bracket signal, but at the moment access is needed so it has been placed to one side.

This picture gives you an idea of the conditions today - an early start in the gloom, and a maximum temperature of : 0 degrees C! This was reached quite early on, and did not change throughout the day. Cold then. On top of that it was windy, so a windchill factor entered into the equation. No worries though for Steve, in his nice warm cab.

A quick view towards the station, and it shows the crossing still in its place. It needs shifting to join up with the first half of the turnout, and the idea was to clean the trackbed, so that the crossing can be shifted on Friday.

And we were off! A first load of 9 tons of spent ballast makes its way towards the tunnel mouth. What would happen inside? Steve reported no particular obstacles, but would it be possible to keep away from both the sleeper ends and the opposite side for the whole 693 yards?

Actually, the 'dumper with lights please' option turned into a bit of a farce yesterday. After it was unloaded the lights (which it duly had) were tried out - you never know -  and they didn't work! A technician was called, who advised that there was no wiring for the lights. Well of course, we didn't specify wiring, did we? We asked for lights!
The technician not only wired up the headlamps, he added a great spotlight on top of the rollbar, which was beautifully aimed to hit the tunnel wall just in the right place. Perfect.

Inside it was a bit spooky (rumours of ghosts of the 3 platelayer killed in the accident here) and of course you can't see the other end, as two thirds of the tunnel lies in a curve.

The atmosphere inside was brown, and for a while there was a concern about what sort of gas that might be, but the brown colour turned out to be dust generated by the dumper's own passage, and lit by the spotlight above. As the wind came from behind, the dustcloud was driven ahead of the dumper so that you were always in it.

For the first trip we both went to Gretton, so that Steve could explain what the general intention was. He also built a temporary crossing across the tracks (foreground) which turned out to be the same width as the wheels of the dumper. It's quite a large, squat machine, weighing in at 4.6 tons itself, plus the load.

The wheelmarks show the hardened track that we were going to build. As the railway embankment gradually rises out of the ground, it crosses Working Lane below, at the end of the wheelmarks in the far distance.

This zoom shot shows the future track descending down to Working Lane, which is named after the Navvy camp that used to be here during the construction of Greet tunnel. It's very damp and boggy here, hence the ballast excercise to make a useable surface for future access. The spent ballast is free of course, a price that we like.

The passages through the tunnel went well, and soon became routine.

Here is a shot of a ballast dump, with a row of previous dumps showing the line of the future track.

In the foreground is a bridge over a culvert.

This is the southern end of the tunnel, and the GWSR board showing the name and its length.

Sadly the date stone at this end is also missing. Its place has been filled by a layer of bricks.

The round trip to Gretton, including loading, takes 20 minutes, so only 3 trips an hour were possible in theory, less time for breaks, lunch, chats with visitors etc. All in all we did 16 trips, so shifting 144 tons of spent ballast.
On the way numerous obstacles have to be negotiated, time and time again. One of these is this signal post. Check out the space between the wheel and the sleeper ends, and between the bucket and the signage.
From the halo on the lights you can see that the gloom persisted pretty much all day long, and the return journey through the tunnel, against the strong draught through it, was bitterly cold.

After lunch, and with 14 trips made, Steve came up to see how things were going at the other end, and to level out the piles into some sort of formation.

The area on the left here is believed to be the site of the Navvy camp, a huge space dug out of the hillside (but no doubt also a convenient source of material to complete the embankments south of here).

This picture shows the track under construction, with Steve levelling the piles.

The area further south of here is too boggy to cross, even for a 4 wheel drive dumper, so we will need to tip forwards off the new track from here onwards.

At the end of the day, we had reached this little culvert with new bridge.

Steve is just removing some of the worst marsh and vegetation, so that the ballast can be dropped tomorrow onto firmer ground.

The light then failed at around 16.30 - the days are definitly geting longer now - and this parting shot shows a clean ballast bed from the end of the rails, station side, up to a point south of the bracket signal.

We were well pleased with this result. It means that tomorrow we can do some additional scraping in the foreground area, and in the afternoon we will move the crossing two panels south, to join its other half. On Saturday we might then have the opportunity of putting more of the track back again.

Wednesday, 25 January 2017


A healthy gang of 16 assembled today, and split into 4 teams.

Team 1 went to Bishop's Cleeve to relay the track across the culvert with the roof repair.

The new roof for the culvert is now sufficiently in place that the track can go back in. A quick half day job, we thought, then we can return to Winchcombe cutting and continue with the track removal. But it was not to be. It's amazing how things get complicated by small hiccoughs.

In the above picture you can see the state of play at Cleeve.The culvert has been partly re-roofed (more to come) and there is enough ballast reinstated for us to put the track back in.

Problems that surfaced:
- The fencing for the compound stretched across the track
- The site hut made it impossible for Steve to enter the site, without driving down the centre of the track
- The centre of the track was filled with rails and sleepers.
- The Landie bringing the tools had to go in the opposite direction to Laverton first.

Once we got Steve through the obstacle course, he tried to bring in the concrete sleepers stored further down the track, but had to pass the excavator used by the contractor to load the rotten timbers previously used to cover the culvert.

It was a delicate ballet between JCB and excavator; Steve got through between loads, successfully!

The bed of ballast put down by the contractor had to be thin, as there is little space between the roof of the tunnel and the bottom of the sleepers. The culvert is very shallow.

Nonetheless it was a bit high in places, and needed shovelling. We solved this by going back to Winchcombe for lunch. When we got back Steve had sorted the levels out for us, bless him.

Sleeper laying commenced immediately.

After all 25 sleepers were put back, using the white spacers from the extension, we seemed to be one short. Was there was a gap caused by the different sleeper spacings between 1999 and 2017?

As luck would have it, the end of the old tunnel roof of wood was marked by a good, useable sleeper in concrete. This one we duly put in to close the gap.

Steve then went to fetch the two rails cut out of the CWR, and dragged them next to the section to be relaid.

Another snag made an appearance at this point. The Landie that brought up the tools had been commandeered to another job, and took some of the tools away with it, including the Camlock.

Using a simple chain, Stev expertly rotated the rail one quarter turn so that it was the right way up, and gently placed it in the sleeper beds. There was little to do for the volunteers here, just two sleepers to nudge a little to get the beds in line.

Then, finally, both rails were back in again. Job done! Now it's up to the welders to join the bits together, and stress them. After that the rails can be clipped, and then ballasted.

While we were putting the track back in, work on the culvert continued.

The mixer is being used to make a weak mix which is going into sandbags, which are being placed around the two pipes at the end.

On the left is a low course of shuttering, which forms the base for the new concrete roof slabs.

In the area of the track, the slabs have already been placed. They look very strong. The rest of the culvert still has to be done.

This area used to be the entrance to the goods yard, and has been heavily altered from its pre 1976 appearance. A housing estate has been put up on the other side of the fence.

The end of the culvert, which is slow running except at times of heavy rain, has been covered over downstream for a length of several dozen yards in order to give parking access to two houses built on the left. Instead of continuing the shape of the culvert under the railway line, two smaller diameter concrete pipes were used.

These pipes emerge say 50 yards further along, where the brook becomes open again.

There are a number of small over bridges, and these, like this one, do repect the original square culvert profile.

The railway side entrance to the pair of pipes is a potential choke point, particularly if floating debris gets trapped there. This area was previously underground, and from now on there will be an inspection cover on the top of a brick chamber. The beams supporting the bottom walls of the chamber were placed today, and covered against the frost that is expected. This looks like a very sensible idea.


After loading up the tools again, this time into the company truck. It was also able to take a number of useful steel plates that were on the old roof, under the track.

In the end, the Cleeve job took all day, but we did achieve the relay so felt happy about it. On returning to Winchcombe, it was too late to help the tunnel approach relay team.
So what were the others up to?

Team 2 took the Jacker/Packer out to Laverton again.

Team 3 unloaded the timbers removed from the tunnel approach, and loaded on to the wagons on Saturday. This took almost all day, as they were stacked from the end (the limited space by the bracket signal last week dictated this). The good news here is that they are all off, and the wagons are clear gain.

Team 4 spent most of the day in the cutting by the bracket signal. They clipped up the last panel laid on Saturday, and unclipped another at the platform end. This leaves us clear to move the crossing, and start removing ballast on Thursday.

Further to the observations about the ballast contaminated by clay on Saturday, Andy P of the drainage gang sent this little set of pictures to explain how the clay got on to the track.

The drain down from the top was originally broken, and was repaired in 2013.

A lot of water drains off the field at the top of the cutting, and should normally be channelled into the catch pit at the bottom with a water tight pipe down the slope.

This is what it looked like before the drainage gang started work.

Once excavated by the drainage gang, it appeared that a repair had been made some time ago in the past, with a mish-mash of what was available to hand. The sections were held together by wire straps. There were a number of large gaps so that the water did not in fact cascade down the pipe, but leaked underneath it, scouring the cutting side and washing it into the formation.

Hence the contaminated ballast.

This picture shows a typical area where two lengths of pipe, of different materials, did not meet in a watertight fashion, and the rainwater ran underneath.

Here is the reinstatement of the pipe, executed by the drainage gang. It's a proper job, all new, no leaks, and the water can be heard pouring down it.

Now we just need to dig out the contaminated ballast at the bottom, a job for the remaining two days of this week.