Sunday, 27 April 2014

Churnet Valley 1940s weekend

Yesterday and today was the Railway's 1940s weekend for this year, and today I was rostered signalman in Consall box. Consall was, as usual for the 1940s weekend, 'invaded' by the 'German military' who had set up camp there. I therefore decided parking at Consall might be a problem, so parked at Cheddleton station at about 08:15 this morning.

The plan was to run the DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit) as one train up and down the valley, and the N7 tank engine with coaching stock as the other train, crossing at Consall. The N7 was still being prepared at 08:45 so the class 33 diesel locomotive 33102 'Sophie' was coupled to the rear of DMU and Dave (the line's photographer) and me climbed into its rear cab for the ride down to Consall getting a lovely view of the valley and back down the line from the cab windows, the big Sulzer diesel engine ticking over with its characteristic 'burum, burum, burum' beat in the engine room behind us.

33102 'Sophie'

View down the line from Sophie's rear cab 

Sophie's engine room with the traction generator nearest the camera and the Sulzer diesel power unit beyond

On arrival at Consall I opened the signal box and split the line staff into Consall - Froghall and Consall - Leekbrook. The former I gave to the DMU driver and he set off for Froghall to form the first train of the day from that end of the line, and the latter I gave to the 33 driver to take back to Cheddleton to give to the N7 driver so that train could form the first of the day from that end of the line. Unfortunately it turned out later that there was a problem with the N7, so 'Sophie' worked the first train from Cheddleton.

The N7 at Consall last year

The N7's technical problem was quickly solved and that locomotive worked the coaching stock for the rest of the day with the exception of one turn.

DMU by Consall box

As expected, Consall was 'occupied by the Germans' with military tents on the grass, gun emplacements, and uniformed military staff strolling about. There was also a large marquee housing a bar and snack counter, and a dance floor as a band would later play typical 1940s melodies.

Soon after 10:00 the DMU arrived from Froghall with its load of passengers, and 'Sophie' from Cheddleton with five ex-BR Mk1 coaches also with a fair load of passengers. Sleepy Consall was not going to be quite so sleepy today!

Here are some of the 1940s characters seen in and around the railway, care of Dave our official photographer:


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Crich Tramway Museum

We are enjoying some rather good weather at present so took the opportunity yesterday to visit the Tramway Museum at Crich, near Cromford in Derbyshire. This is a trip that we have had on the 'to do' list for a while but the museum only re-opened for the 2014 season at the beginning of this month. This morning we met at Malc's at 10:30, Malc and I on our Suzuki Freewind 650 motorbikes, Ivan on his MP3.

Nearly there - Malc was leading at this point and decided to stop in Cromford for a break. My Freewind nearest the camera, then Malcs, with Ivan's MP3 beyond that.

Nice day, so the Museum was using some open-top trams, including this ex-Blackpool Corporation Tramways 'toast rack', so called for an obvious reason.

Another ex-Blackpool open tram was this superbly restored 'Boat' tram

We took a ride on the upper deck of this ex-Sheffield 4-wheeler to the quarry exhibition area at Wake Bridge where we were able to sit at one of the picnic tables for lunch

After lunch we boarded the 'toast-rack' to travel down to the 'Village', passing the 'boat' coming up the other way.

I wonder where this saw service? A Dick-Kerr steam driven electrical generator.

 I last visited Crich in September 2009 and took this picture on my phone of the village area

Another 2009 phone picture, showing how scenic is the view from the tram at the top of the site

Back to yesterday's visit. The standard of restoration of the trams is of a very high order, and visitors are free to wander around the tram shed to examine the entire fleet.

Entry charge for the museum entitles one to return free of charge for one year, so I'd guess this won't be our last visit to this excellent museum in 2014!

EDIT: 16 August 2014, Malc and I did indeed re-visit, me on the mighty Moto Guzzi Griso and he again on his Freewind. We combined the trip with a little research into the line of the Cromford & High Peak Railway, and returned via Crowdecote, Longnor, Winking Man, and Gradbach. While at Crich we had a ride on 'Sheffied's Last Tram' (pictured above) and attended the 14:00 guided tour of the main part of the site - very interesting!


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Ivan has a new machine!

......And here it is! A Piaggio MP3 3-wheel scooter:

Ivan's new (to him) Piaggio 3-wheel scoot

Many decades ago Ivan took a motorcycle test and therefore had a full motorcycle licence. As with all of us, over the years his driving licence has been physically renewed from time to time, and at some stage his entitlement to ride a motorcycle disappeared from it. He only noticed this when he got back into biking a few years ago and fancied something bigger than his Honda SS50 (50cc bikes can be ridden on a car licence). DVLA at Swansea were as much use as a chocolate teapot in tracing back his 'big bike' entitlement, saying they have no record of it. Strangely Ivan's wife, who has never sat on a motorcycle in her life, has mysteriously acquired a full 'big bike' entitlement on her drivers licence! 

Civil servants, eh? Don't you just love 'em? They screw up, and then they 'have no record' of it!

Ivan has no documentary proof of his 'bike' entitlement, so is powerless to challenge DVLA's incompetent self-serving indifference. That left him with three possibilities: Restrict himself to bikes of 50cc or less, take the time-consuming and expensive 'Direct Entry' full bike licence course and test, or think 'outside the box'. He chose the latter, with a Piaggio MP3 450CC three-wheel scooter.

These trikes can be driven on an ordinary car driving licence, so Ivan found one for sale on eBay and purchased it. Today we enjoyed an outing to the Churnet Valley Railway at Cheddleton for him to get used to it. We gathered this morning at Malc's, and to keep speeds down while Ivan became familiar with this unusual steed, Malc and I used our little Honda C90s.

Malcs house this morning; his C90 on the left, Ivans MP3, Ivan, my C90

I led on the outward journey, onto the Alderley bypass, down the A34 to Congleton, then a 'small lanes' route cross country to our destination. Out past Congelton railway station to Hightown, Dane-In-Shaw, and over the saddle of Bosley Cloud before bearing right for Rudyard via Biddulph Common and Brownslow. From Rudyard we found the diminutive Devil's Lane up and over the moor to Longsdon, onward to cross the Caldon Canal and its feeder from Rudyard Lake (canalised here to form the canal's Leek arm) and the Leekbrook to Stoke 'Moorland & City Rail' line at Horse Bridge, and into Cheddleton 'the back way'.

At Cheddleton Station, after securing the bikes, we walked down to the workshops where ex-BR diesel electric locomotive 47524 was undergoing restoration. This engine entered service with British Rail in 1966 and was withdrawn from service thirty years later.

47524 undergoing restoration in the Cheddleton workshops of the Churnet Valley railway

47524's restored engine room with the massive diesel engine and alternator removed so the locomotive's structure can be properly accessed

The boiler of S160 locomotive No.5197 nearing restoration completion in the workshop. It was a 'Driver Experience Day' on the railway for my 60th birthday, driving No.5197, that first got me involved with the Churnet Valley Railway. Followers of this blog will be aware that I have been a qualified signalman at Consall on the railway since early last year.

5197's firebox, with thermic syphons (the large pipes) visible 

The other end of the boiler - the smokebox tube plate 

Outside in the yard is 5197's restored frames, smokebox saddle, and cylinders on temporary wheels 

Two Polish tank engines were acquired for the railway and one of them is almost fully restored in the yard. It has successfully steamed to Froghall and back, but its air compressor isn't yet working so it has only a hand brake at present. These engines are too large for the UK loading gauge so during the restoration the width across the cylinders was reduced by eliminating lagging space between the cylinders and cylinder casing, and the bunker modified so it will fit our railway. The class 47's central roof section can be seen on the flat waggon to the right of the locomotive.

The simple footplate of the Polish tank engine

The only train running today was a Photo Charter, and it soon appeared at Cheddleton in charge of the hired-in N7 tank engine 69621 from the East Anglian Railway Museum, which has been a Cheddleton resident for a couple of years now. This loco will be out of boiler ticket in July this year, so won't be in service on the CVR for much longer. The N7 stopped in the platform and we visited the footplate for a warm!

Here's a short video of the N7's air pump operating. The loco has only air brakes as it was designed to run with air braked stock on suburban services out of Kings Cross and Liverpool Street. It also has an ejector to provide vacuum so it can work vacuum braked stock, such as ours on the Churnet Valley.

'Sophie' approaches Cheddleton. The photographers wanted to take pictures at Leekbrook so the N7 and train were shunted into the bay platform to allow resident Class 33 diesel loco 'Sophie' and train to be run from their parking place north of the station to a position south of the station to allow the Photo Charter to reverse out of the bay, and proceed northwards to Leekbrook. But then the sun began to shine and the photographers decided to go the other way - to Oakamoor. The track between Froghall and Oakamoor may soon be lifted (don't ask!), so this may well be the last train to make that trip.

While the above shunting was taking place, Ivan borrowed Malc's tool kit to tighten a loose mirror on his machine

We followed the same route home, except that from Congleton we used Giantswood Lane to Hulme Walfield and Trap Street to the Holmes Chapel road at Jodrell bank and a fuel stop at Chelford. A pint at the Bird In Hand at Knolls Green was called for, and while enjoying that a small group from Stockport Walkers, who had been walking round Tatton park, appeared. I used to walk regularly with them in the Peak District after I retired in 2008.

The little bikes and Ivan's trike were soon tucked away in their respective garages - just before the rain started! On Monday we have a trip to Crich Tramway Museum planned - and on that outing Ivan's new steed will be accompanied by Malc and I on our big bikes and so will be able to 'stretch its legs'; I might even take the mighty Griso!


Saturday, 5 April 2014

On the buses! And another look at APT.

Crewe Heritage Centre this weekend are holding a vintage bus event and I decided to go along for a look, and to have another poke around the prototype Advanced Passenger Train they have there. I recently managed to get hold of a copy of 'Advanced Passenger Train; A Promise Unfulfilled' by L H Williams through Cheshire Library inter-lending, a book long out of print, and I wanted to have a closer look at the train armed with my new knowledge.

A near-full Virgin Pendolino from Wilmslow whisked me to Crewe, where the vintage Routemaster bus operating a free shuttle between the station and the Heritage Centre rolled to a stop just as I emerged from the station.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Upper deck of the Routemaster at Crewe station

Rail House, Crewe, from the upper deck of the Routemaster

The Routemaster at the Heritage Centre ready to return to the railway station

Not too many buses on display, and some of them not that old!

View of Crewe station from the observation window of the old Crewe signal box at the Heritage Centre. Look carefully (click to enlarge) and you'll see the Routemaster on the road bridge in front of the station

A southbound Pendolino passes the Crewe Arms as it enters the station

General view of the Heritage Centre site from the old signal box balcony

A4 Pacific locomotive 'Bittern'. This engine is frequently used on steam specials.

A look at Bittern's corridor tender, enabling crews to be changed during non-stop runs from London to Edinburgh back in LNER days.

A promise unfulfilled; the only remaining prototype Advanced Passenger Train (APT)

Standard class interior of the APT. Compare with that of the Pendelino in the picture at the end of this post

The rather spartan drivers' cab, complete with second man's seat insisted on by the rail unions of the time, an issue which caused massive delays to the APT - Experimental project. The APT-E was built with single-crew cabs.

I had my sandwiches in the first class carriage of the APT; here, a train of VSOE (Venice Simplon Orient Express) Pullman coaches passes, southbound on the West Coast Main Line, topped and tailed by class 67 diesel locomotives. This train had dropped off Grand National-bound customers at Runcorn (for onward travel to Aintree by coach) and was returning to Crewe for servicing before returning to Runcorn later to pick up the passengers after their day out at the 'National'.

The train ran in service with two power cars in the centre, and six passenger coaches either side of these; a total of fourteen coaches. It was effectively two separate trains, separated by the power cars with catering in both 'trains'. The power cars do have a narrow corridor through them (shown in the picture above) but only train staff, not passengers, could use these.

The Heritage Centre has placed information sheets in the power car to explain how it operated (click on the picture to make the text legible in a larger image)

The traction motors are mounted in the power car body, with cardan shaft drive to bogie-mounted gearboxes to minimise the un-sprung weight for a better ride at high speed and less wear on the track.

One of the 4 traction motors per power car (nearest the camera). The ducting for the the traction motor blower is mounted on top of the unit. The transfer gearbox to drive the cardan shaft is the blue section on the far end of the motor, and the section beyond that is the hydro-kinetic brake.

Hydro-kinetic brake nearest the camera, the transfer gearbox in blue, and beyond that the traction motor with its blower trunking

The non-powered bogies carried hydro-kinetic brakes on the axle. The large drum with vanes fixed to it internally rotates with the wheels and has a vaned 'stator' inside it which does not rotate, a form of torque converter. To apply the brake, a glycol / water mix is pumped into the drum by compressed air causing drag between the non-rotating stator and the rotating drum, and the liquid pumped to radiators to dissipate heat. As the train slowed, final braking was achieved by wheel-tread friction shoe brakes applied by compressed air.   

A power bogie showing the cardan shaft drive from the body-mounted traction motor to the bogie-mounted gearbox

An external view of a power car. Each power car was fitted with a pantograph to pick up traction current from the 25Kv ac overhead wire, but only the leading one was used. If both pantographs were raised, the first one would set up a mechanical flex (a 'wave') in the overhead wire which would cause the second one to bounce on the wire. The 25Kv ac power was supplied to the other power car by cables, and it was this need to cable-connect the high voltage between the power cars that necessitated the power cars to be adjacent. On today's Pendolinos safe and reliable coach-top cables connect the non-adjacent transformer cars in the train again with only one pantograph raised, and modern technology allows all of a Pendolino's traction equipment (transformers, motor drive electronics, and traction motors) to be mounted under the train's floor so they don't impinge on the passenger space. Like APT, Pendolino uses (under) body mounted traction motors driving bogie-mounted gearboxes through cardan shafts. 

I returned to the railway station on the lower deck of the Routemaster

One Routemaster seen through the door of another

The Routmaster's driving cab

A Virgin Pendelino took me home to wilmslow, a modern version of what the APT perhaps should have been. The APT was a brave attempt to provide British Rail with 150mph tilting electric trains running on the West Coast Main Line. The project started with APT - E (E for experimental), a gas turbine powered 4-coach train of revolutionary construction. It was designed by engineers from the aerospace industry using lightweight but strong aluminium construction and tilting bogies to reduce the sideways forces for passengers on curves. APT - E was followed by three electrically-powered prototype trains (APT - P) which actually didn't inherit a great deal from APT-E (different tilt system, power, and traction system). British Rail management forced APT-P into service long before the trains were developed enough for that. Although they suffered from unreliability due to their not being sufficiently developed, they were fast and an APT - P still holds the London to Glasgow rail speed record despite a modern Pendolino having a go at the record a few years ago (APT - P also holds UK rail speed record of 162.2 mph for conventional, as opposed to High Speed, rail).  The unreliability gave BR management and Government the excuse they were looking for to 'pull the plug' on APT (instead of completing developing it into the reliable train it by then nearly was) and concentrate instead on the successful but conventional HST (High Speed Train), or Inter City 125 based on the non-tilting Mk3 coach of steel construction with a maximum speed of 125 mph and much lower acceleration rates than APT.

APT - E went to the National Railway Museum in York. One of the ATP - P sets is this one at Crewe (its second power car is with the NRM at York). The other two APT - P sets were scrapped.

The bulky electrical equipment of the time was not in APT's favor, with the requirement for the adjacent power cars to house it, which divided each unit into effectively two separate trains whereas on today's Pendolinos all the equipment is below floor level and the two transformer cars distributed in the train use a 25Kv coach-top connection to the single raised pantograph. The under-floor mounting of the traction motors on Pendolinos allows for most of the train's wheels to be powered, rather that just those of the power cars on APT. This gives better acceleration and resistance to wheel slip on gradients than on APT.

In addition the APT's hydro-kinetic brake was far from ideal, being impossible to control with enough finesse to prevent wheel slip, and continuing to cause drag after brake release due to residual fluid still in the system. The regenerative brakes of modern electric trains, made possible by developments in electronic technology were not available in APT's day. Regenerative brakes provide retardation by the traction motors operating as generators, recovering energy to be put back into the overhead wire as current for other trains to use rather than dissipated as heat as the hydro-kinetic and friction brake does.

However, APT has a far more pleasant interior than the Pendolino (see the picture above). It has a spacious, airy feel compared to the cramped claustrophobic Pendolino interior, with its tiny letter-box windows. Compare the picture below with that of the APT interior above.

Pendolino interior - cramped and claustrophobic compared to APT

So probably the ideal train for UK main lines today would be an APT with modern traction and braking technology. If the UK government of the 1980s had more vision and belief in rail's future, and had backed APT instead of burying it, perhaps that's what we'd have by now instead of Italian Pendolinos.