Saturday, 28 June 2014

The last locomotive, to date, built in Manchester

Charlie Hulme's excellent North Wales Coast Railway site (, on its 'Notice Board; News' section recently credited West Highland Railway (formerly South African Railways) Beyer Garratt no.143 as the last ever steam locomotive to be built in Manchester, and the last loco of any kind to be built in the city being also a Beyer Peacock, Class 25 diesel D7659 (later 25 309).

WHR 158, from the North Wales Railway site, copyright Martin Evans

That's perfectly true... except for 'Planet'.

I felt I had to remind Charlie that back when the Manchester Museum of Science & Industry had its own workshops (workshops in the real sense of the word rather than discussion groups) and the capability to do 'real engineering', it built the last locomotive to date in Manchester, and one I work on as volunteer footplate crew. Charlie, accommodating as ever where correct recording of railway history is concerned, published the following entry in the next 'Notice Board'. The picture is one I took a few years ago at Loughborough on the Great Central Railway when 'Planet' was taking part in their 'Golden Oldies' weekend.

MoSI's replica 'Planet' locomotive at Loughborough, on the Great Central Railway

If we make a claim in one of these effusions that something is the first, last, biggest, smallest, etc. the chances are that someone will immediately email to prove us wrong. Such is the case with our suggestions in the 16 June issue concerning Beyer Peacock locomotives being the last to be built in Manchester. Vince Chadwick, a volunteer worker on the Museum of Scence and Industry railway sends the above picture of Planet, a working replica of a Liverpool and Manchester loco, which was built in the Museum's Manchester workshop and completed in 1992, many years after the demise of Beyer Peacock.


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Churnet Valley Railway 'Anything Goes' weekend

Today I was back in Consall signal box for the first time in several weeks, as 'turns' in the 'box are scarce due to the railway running fewer 'multi-train' days than usual. Consall 'box is only needed when two trains are running in the valley, so they can cross each other in the passing loop at Consall.

I was in the 'Box by 08:15 this morning, time enough to get it ready for the day's work and make a brew before the N7 tank engine and diesel loco 33012 arrived from Cheddleton coupled together and bringing the 'combined staff' for the line. I split the staff into its two sections, Consall - Leekbrook and Consall - Froghall (see HERE earlier in the blog for an explanation operation of the 'box)  so the N7 could proceed to Froghall and the 33 back to Cheddleton to commence passenger services from those stations.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

A steamy and smokey N7 tank engine heads off light engine to Froghall this morning to commence passenger services from there

Class 33 diesel 'Captain Charles' prepares to head the other way, back to Cheddleton, to start services from that station

 Fellow steam nut and a friend from years ago, Pete A. came down to the railway today. This is a picture he took at Cheddleton; the N7 and Beyer Peacock 0-4-0 saddle tank. The drivers are deep in contemplation at the massive task ahead! (Not!).

 The Beyer Peacock and the N7 roll into Consall from Froghall. The 0-4-0 driver has the staff in his hand ready for me to collect....

 .....Like this. The author, about to pick up the Staff from the Beyer Peacock driver at Consall.

 Lots of smoke  at Consall. And not from St Bruno Flake!

 Roger, the DMU driver, doesn't usually walk back towards the 'box to collect the Leekbrook Staff as other drivers often do so here I am returning from delivering it to Roger in his cab. 

 Both of the Railway's 33s, Captain Charles and Sophie, thunder out of Consall together for Froghall

 'Captain Charles' remained at Froghall to return on a later train, while 'Sophie' brought the 'down' train up the valley. Here the author catches the staff at Consall, watched by driver Nick and (far right) station master Howard.

 'Sophie', ready to leave Consall

 The Polish Tank on its first passenger train down the valley, at Consall

 The Polish tank and the N7 were working together between Froghall and Ipstones. Here they leave Consall for Froghall.

 The diminutive Beyer Peacock pilots the not over-large N7 (but it still dwarfs the 0-4-0) into Froghall

 Pete A. strolls back down the platform towards the 'box at Consall

 One of the last trains of a long day; the N7, the Polish tank, and one of the 33s leave Consall for Cheddleton

 A Hornby model railway with Tri-ang Minic electric roadway  set up in the Consall waiting room

 It's the longest day of the year, yet approaching 7pm shadows lengthen in the valley as I await the final class 33 movements, one from Froghall and one from Cheddleton each bringing the staffs to be joined in Consall 'box before it is switched out for the night

 Time passes slowly but pleasantly as I sit out in a chair on the 'box stairs landing in the evening sunshine, the occasional wind rustling the leaves in gusts and the steady fall of water over the canal wear the only sounds (apart from the squawking of the resident crows) as I await our final Class 33 arrivals, arrivals which will enable me to join the staffs, close the 'box, and go home. There can be few more peaceful and relaxing heritage railway sites than Consall.

 Predictably the first to arrive, from Froghall, is 33021 'Captain Charles'. The Captain sat outside my 'box bathed in 'longest day' sunlight for about half an hour filling the air with its distinctive Sulzer engine Bud-um-bum-bum, bud-um-bum-bum beat as we awaited its classmate's arrival from Cheddleton.

Eventually, after much shunting at Cheddleton, 'Sophie'arrived. Having briefed her driver before 'Sophie left Consall for Cheddleton I pulled off my signal 14 as agreed, and she slowly appeared in the main platform ready to couple up to 'Captain Charles' (proving that, despite the electrical and mechanical  interlocking, a conflicting movement can be set up at Consall!). The Captain's crew are relaxing on the platform bench, including the train guard; the Captain's train had been left at Froghall ready to commence the passenger service from there tomorrow.

I used the two staffs to close Consall 'box, then combined the staffs into one for the entire line, which I handed to 'Sophie's' driver. By the time I'd completed the train register, signed out, and locked up the 'box the two 33s were powering out of the station as I headed for my car. The time was about 7:30pm... Long day on the longest day! But fun!

Next day - Sunday 22nd June

Today Malc and I rode down to Cheddleton on our C90s. The weather was hot and sunny, ideal for a day out, and we chose the scenic route via Chelford, Jodrell, Withington, Hulme Walfield, Congleton, Dane-in-Shawe, Biddulph Moor, Rudyard, Longsdon, and Horse Bridge.

 The flight deck of the newly-restored Polish tank

 This loco will be the mainstay of CVR steam when the N7 is withdrawn at the end of its 10-year boiler ticket next month. Note the proximity of the cylinder to the platform edge; the gap on the other side was much more generous as the track is not centrally slewed in the bay platform. But 1.25 inches has been taken off each cylinder width, 4.5 inches off each tank's width, 6 inches off the cab roof, and the cab floor lowered by 6 inches so the engine now fits the UK loading gauge.

 Superbly restored 4-wheel Knotty coach on display from the Foxfield railway

 The Polish tank and the N7 ready to take a train up to Ipstones

 The other of the two Polish tanks at Cheddleton. This one requires a bit of work, but the green one looked little better than this when it arrived.

 Greg Wilson's original American Transport Corps S160 undergoing overhaul in Cheddleton yard. Hard to believe this is the engine I drove on my 60th birthday 'driving experience', which got me involved with this lovely railway. The S160 has cast steel bar frames, not plate frames as is common British practice

The little Beyer Peacock saddle tank is fettled in the yard between duties

The owner disappeared into the tank to fix a leaking water valve

Click on these links for two videos. The second one I particularly like; after the train had thundered past Apesford the crossing keepers had to douse a couple of lineside fires!


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Middleton Top Engine House and The Ecclesbourne Valley Railway

The Cromford & High Peak Railway was built in 1831 / 2 to connect the canal basin at Whaley Bridge on the Peak Foest Canal with Cromford Basin on the Cromford Canal. Its route is over the high Peak District of Derbyshire so quite a bit of climbing and descending is required. It was originally proposed as a canal, but difficulty in finding water sources for the High Peak section several hundred feet above sea level, meant it was instead built as a railway.

Nonethless as was common with early railways it was built in the manner of a canal, with long level stretches of line equating to the 'pounds' of a canal with wagons originally horse-drawn, linked by inclined planes equating to flights of locks. Almost all of these inclined planes used stationary steam engines hauling the wagons up the incline originally using chains. When wire ropes became reliable and of sufficient strength they were used in place of chains. The first incline from Cromford was at Middleton, and its engine and engine house still exist.

Malc and I decided to ride over to Middleton on our 650cc single cyclinder Suzuki Freewind motorcycles to take a look, and then to move on a mile or so into the valley to see the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The bikes at the engine house, after a ride up the Cat & Fiddle, then through Harpur Hill and Newhaven 

Middleton Top Engine House. The trackbed of the C&HPR is now a cycleway, the High Peak Trail, which can be seen to the right of the railway wagon. The external iron support frame on the chimney has been added to help support the structure as it ages.

The gradient indicator board shows the one-in-eight-and-a-quarter gradient of the inclined plane 

The view down the inclined plane from the engine house 

This device, now relocated to the top of the incline, used to be at the bottom and was the communication 'telegraph' device between the bottom of the incline and the engine house at the top. 'G' was for 'Go', 'S' was for 'stop', and 'B' was presumably 'back'
Inside the engine house. Twin 20hp double acting condensing beam engines built by the Butterley company, drove the single central flywheel visible in the picture. This was geared to the winding drum around which the wire rope was fed to haul wagons up the incline, at least partially balanced by descending wagons although for a period the incline was single track so this wasn't possible. 

The two beams of the engines can be seen, together with the single central flywheel. Malc chats to the guide. 

Looking down from the gallery at the rotatative end of one of the beams, showing the connecting rod and crank driving the flywheel. Note the communication 'telegraph' on the wall similar to one outside to communicate with the men at the bottom of the incline.

Two Cornish boilers replaced the originals in 1868. They were installed by the London & North Western railway (by then the C&HPR owners) and were doubtless built at Crewe using plate of their own manufacture. The boilers are long past any use, but the engine is occasionally run these days using compressed air rather than steam.

The bikes outside the boilerhouse. The building over the stoking area is long gone, leaving the boiler faces exposed to the weather.

Some original C&HP rail, with stone block 'sleepers'

We moved a couple of miles down the road to the Ecclesbourne Valley railway, eight miles long, between Wirksworth and Duffield where there is an acoss-platform connection with the main line

It's an interesting railway, but unfortunately it almost exclusively runs diesel passenger trains, mostly DMUs like these two

Malc tries the drivers cab for size. Bit simpler than the Boeing 747s he used to drive!

On the far side of Wirksworth station a line heads off up the hill in the opposite direction to line to Duffield. This is, we were told, occasionally used by the line's 0-4-0 steam shunting locos to take trains up to the old stone quarry.

A super ride home through the Peak via Newhaven, Pilsbury, Crowdecote, Longnor, Gradbach and Bosley saw us at the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green, a couple of miles from home, for a post-ride out pint. Sam Smiths bitter at £1.80.... excellent beer, excellent price!


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ever wondered why Continuous Welded Rail doesn't need expansion gaps?

Prior to the widespread use of Continuous Welded Rail (CWR) on UK railways, track was laid in 'panels' rather like pieces of model railway track, but in sixty foot lengths. These panels were each bolted to the next using a pair of 'fishplates' as shown below. One plate is placed either side of the rail and four bolts hold the plates and rail in place, with an expansion gap left between the rails. As the rail expands in warm weather this gap closes, and the gap is wide enough that on all but the very hottest of days the expansion can be accommodated. If the rail expands beyond this point, the track will buckle.

A fishplate joining two track panels. Note the expansion gap left between the rails.

Traditional sixty foot track lengths produce the familiar (less so these days) clickety-clack sound of the train wheels over the track joints. Unfortunately, fishplated rail ends are less 'stiff' than the rail itself, so the rail tends to 'pump' up and down at the joints under the weight of a passing train. As it pumps, it allows rainwater to penetrate beneath the sleepers at the rail ends eroding the trackbed and making the pumping worse. Also, the rail ends wear as the wheels pass over them, and the bolts need regular checking and re-tightening. All of this means that traditional track joints require a lot of maintenance. To obviate this, and to ensure a more accurate and reliable track alignment, jointed track has now been almost entirely replaced by Continuous Welded Rail (CWR) on UK railways.

Old and new; A 1930s A4 Pacific on modern Continuous Welded Rail

CWR therefore requires less maintenance than jointed track, and will remain in accurate alignment for longer. But if it is continuous, with no expansion joints, how does it cope with thermal expansion in hot weather?

Its laid it's in tension by hydraulically stretching it before cutting to length and welding to the previous length. Sufficient tension is applied to achieve a 'Stress Free Temperature' (SFT) of 27 degrees C (i.e to relieve the tension by expansion the rail would need to be heated by the sun to 27C, whereupon it would neither be in tension or compression).

The rail temperature at which the expansion stress has the potential to start causing buckles on normal, plain track in good condition is 32C above stress free temperature. So, an SFT of 27C means that rail temperature has to reach 59C before mitigation measures are made (such as blanket speed restrictions). And a rail temp of 59C in high summer, with blue sky, (worst case) requires a shade air temperature of 41C, something which has never been recorded in this country.

In summer the effect of the sun lifts the temperature of the rail by between 8C (full cloud cover) and 18C (blue sky) above ambient shade temperature. 

So CWR provides a quiet, smooth ride in comparison to jointed track, especially for trains that run at high speed. It also retains its alignment for longer, is most unlikely to buckle even in the hottest UK weather, and requires less maintenance. No wonder that jointed track has all but disappeared except on heritage railways where maintenance is by volunteers, and the passengers enjoy that nostalgic clickety-clack of the carriage wheels over the rail joints. 


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Back to the Cotswolds

Each year we visit our daughter at Broadway in the Cotswolds. This is our fourth visit, and we stayed for the first 2 nights in our usual (excellent) B&B in Broadway... this time in a room with a four-poster bed. In a couple more years we'll have tried all the rooms!

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Not the 'real thing', but unusual and surprisingly comfortable nonetheless

The first evening we had a meal at the Fleece Inn at Bretforton, an ancient wood-frame building owned by the National Trust. Unfortunately the Trust doesn't run the pub or I'd have been able to use my National Trust Volunteer Card to claim a 20% discount!

The Fleece, at Bretforton

The next morning the ladies went to Oxford for a look around while I stole a day away on the Gloucester Warwickshire Railway (GWR). The Railway was running two trains (one DMU and one steam-hauled) passing at Winchcombe. By careful scrutiny of the timetable I was able to maximise my ridership by making several between-trains changes at Toddington and Winchcombe. I left Toddington on the first train of the day at 10:00, and arrived back there again on the last train of the day at 17:24.

An unusual departure for the Great Western, these 15xx pannier tanks (actually built by BR in 1949) had outside Walchearts valve gear and no running plate; far easier to maintain. They were used mainly on empty stock workings in and out of London Paddington. This loco was one of several which had taken part in the GWR's 'Back to Black' steam gala which took place the weekend before my visit, and was about to be loaded onto a road vehicle for transport back to its home railway.

Our loco for today is more typical of Great Western practice, with inside valve gear and a low running plate typical of older designs where simplified maintenance was not a high consideration, because labour rates back then were low.

The side tanks protrude back into the already small cab, making it even 'tighter' for the engine crew. Crew  comfort was not a serious consideration when these locomotives were designed.

A wet Winchcombe. The station buffet staff (click on the picture to get a larger view) await their first customers. My first trip of the day was the full length of the line both ways - Toddington to Cheltenham Race Course where the loco runs around the train, back  up the line to the temporary northern terminus at  Laverton loop, then down to Toddington again.

The Prairie runs around its train at Laverton loop. In the not too distant future the railway will be extended north from here into the town of Broadway; the funds are almost complete and contracts to repair the intervening bridges will soon be let. Next stage after that will be Broadway to Honeybourne, where it will connect with the Network Rail 'Cotswold line' so trains will be able to run onto the GWR  from the main line railway network. The trackbed all the way to Honeyborne is unobstructed, and when Network Rail put right BR's vandalism of making the Cotswold main line single (among many others to which they did the same) by re-doubling it recently, they laid in a junction at Honeybourne for the GWR connection!

At Toddington I transferred to the DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit). Here's the damp view from the rear cab as we leave Toddington for Laverton Loop. Nice collection of semaphore signals!

The major structure on the line is Stanway Viaduct, seen here from the DMU's rear cab as we head for Laverton

There is no platform at Laverton as it's a temporary terminus until the extension to Broadway is in place, so passengers are reminded not to try to alight here!

The DMU in use on the day, seen at Toddington

From Toddington I took the steam train again down to Cheltenham Racecourse Station. Here a member of the footplate crew re-positions the running lights before the loco runs around for the return journey.

Having run around the train, the loco waits for the signal to run forward to couple on again. There's construction work on the Racecourse site with heavy lorries carrying earth away, and their access is across the level crossing by the signal box above. The two characters in orange hi-viz getting wet are there to control these lorry movements when trains pass the crossing.

A wet Prairie at Cheltenham Race Course Station

I made several further trips finishing on the last train of the day, a DMU turn from Cheltenham Race Course to Toddington. That evening we dined at the Broadway Hotel just up the road from the B&B, and the following morning we strolled around the beautiful town of Broadway before driving to daughter's house in Evesham for an afternoon visit to the county town of Worcester.

The magnificent cathedral in Worcester 

Interior view. Quite a roof!

There are some lovely stained glass windows here

Back in Evesham that evening we had a great Thai meal at our daughter's favorite Thai restaurant. Next day was earmarked for a visit to the Cotswold Falconry Centre at Batsford park, near Moreton in Marsh. The Centre uses the old estate stables and surrounding land, with aviaries for the birds and a display ground and field to 'fly' them. It was an interesting place, but what brought it to life and made it a special place to visit were the flying demonstrations.

The young man giving the demonstrations was highly knowledgeable about how each bird type (owls, falcons, vultures, eagles etc) survive in the wild and what drives them to fly (or not!). No bird of prey flies for fun, they do it to find food, or a mate. Many raptors are great at soaring updrafts but at the expense of having a limited ability for powered 'flapping' flight; maybe only a few minutes or so at a time.

Owls tend to sit still listening (they have excellent hearing but poor near eyesight) for prey, on which they can silently pounce . They have large wings for their weight giving a low 'wing loading', which, together with soft wing feathers, makes for quiet flight to catch prey unawares.

Other birds of prey soar at height (having gained that height on thermals of rising air, like glider pilots) using their superb eyesight to spot lower-flying birds on which they prey and on which they can dive at very high speed, or, in the case of scavengers such as vultures and buzzards, dead animals on the ground on which to feed.

American Bald Eagle

This chap, a Chilean Eagle, managed to soar on what looked to me like a totally unsoarable day. In the still, damp, stable air he managed to search out a thermal or two and, as glider pilots say, 'was able to to scratch around in zero sink for a while'.

The stables and aviaries at Batsford

An eagle owl visits the customers

Those tufts are just that; his ears are at each extremity of the face, the hollows around the eyes collecting and concentrating the sound

Our demonstrator whirls the 'lure' for a falcon

He ensures the birds only get rewarded by catching the food if they put in the effort to 'catch' it, just as in the wild

The bird gets the reward, as the demonstrator points to where he'd like to see his charges soar to

Golden eagle

Barn owl. She does have two legs, but likes to perch on just one.

Some young owls were being hand-reared in the stable

The barn owl ready to fly

The Chilean Eagle

A vulture approaches

A Vulture on the tower, contemplating flight

A Kite uses its large tail like a rudder...

...And tucks in and sweeps its wings for minimum drag in a high speed dive

That evening we attended a 300 year old traditional annual event - Robert Drover's games at Chipping Campden, otherwise known as 'The Cotswold Olimpiks'. I've never seen anything like it. It's held in a natural 'bowl' in the Cotswold ridge, and was a bit like primary school sports day or 'It's a knockout' until the shin-kicking started!

A Scottish pipe band... from Cheltenham. How much will they cost next year if they get their independence?

Traditional sack race

Get in the barrow, get pushed to the other side of the site, pick up your jigsaw pieces, return in the barrow to your side to fit the pieces into the jigsaw, first team to complete the jigsaw is the winner! 

Tug - o - war

The highlight of the evening - shin kicking! Two contestants at a time in heats, then a final. The guy with the stick is the 'Stickler', a sort of referee. Said to be the origin of the that word.

It even made the Daily Mail! The following five pictures are from their website.

This event is said to have been traditional among Cotswold shepards

The only protection is straw-stuffed socks and trousers

'Fill you water bin' game. The plastic sheet is lubricated with liquid soap as contestants try to run with holed buckets of water from a bin of of water at one end of the sheet, to fill their own bins at the other end (fullest bin wins). Speed, therefore, is essential (and slipping on the soap is mandatory!). As is cheating, such as tipping over your opponent's water bin!

At the start, 'Robert Drover' and his 'special friend' open the games

After the games there's a torchlight procession a mile or so down the hill into Chipping Campden. Claire, Chris, Dave (Claire's partner) about to set off.

The procession heads down the hill

In Chipping Campden there was a great band, street dancing. and much celebration!

A superb week. And everyone should attend the Cotswold Olimpiks at lest once!

Some videos:

In the cab of the DMU, end of day:

DMU cab ride on GWR

Some videos of the Cotswold Olimpiks:

 Olimpiks 1

Olimpiks 2

Olimpiks 3

Olimpiks 4