Monday, 26 June 2017

A visit to the new Air Traffic Control Tower at Manchester Airport

When the new terminal at Manchester Airport was opened in 1962, it included a control tower atop the terminal building. Latterly it has been realised that that that was not an ideal arrangement; not only is the westerly threshold of the new runway, 05R, not visible from the old tower, there was a further problem.

If there was a fire, or in today's less settled society, a terrorist threat or actual attack on Terminal One (as that original terminal became), the Tower would have to be abandoned which would bring the Airport to a halt. The Airport's business continuity insurers would no longer accept that as an affordable risk, so a new, stand-alone Tower, was required.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The 1962 Tower at Manchester, atop Terminal One. A BEA Vanguard on the apron.

A couple of years ago the new Tower was built at a cost of £20M, and this afternoon I enjoyed an Interesting tour around the facility. I had visited the old tower many times but this was my first visit to the new one.
The visit was organised through my involvement with the Airport as an occasional but long standing guide on Concorde G-BOAC and ex-RAF Nimrod XV231.

The new control tower from the car park in front of the fire station.

General view to the south east from the VCR (visual Control Room) atop the tower.

In the old tower, displays were built into control desks. In the new environment, all displays are free-standing flat screens, easily swapped out in the event of a fault.

In order to reduce glare from the sun shining through the large glass panels, transparent blinds are drawn which doesn't aid photography! You can see the brighter vertical stripes between the edges of each blind, and the window frames.

An aircrat waiting to cross 23R, headed for 23L for take off. It is in contact with the 23R controller, who controls that runway and any crossing traffic. Once it has crossed, it will be handed over to the 23L controller. 

An aircraft vacating runway 23R (the landing runway today, 23L, visible beyond the aeroplane, just this side of the trees, being used for take offs). 

Note the old road in the foreground. This is the original Altrincham - Wilmslow road, in use before the runway tunnels were built. As a lad I used to ride my bicycle along it going from my home in Sale to visit a friend in Alderley Edge. And some years ago I taxyed our Chipmunk aeroplane along it having landed on runway 24 (as 23R was back then) and parking on the grass in front of the viewing park (whose boundary fence can be seen on the right of the picture).

Manchester city centre, beyond the buildings of Terminal Two.

View over the Runway Visitor Park to the 05 thresholds. Note the open blind on the right hand window.

Jodrell Bank radio telescope on the southern horizon.

Terminal One and the old 1962 tower.

The Concorde hangar in the foreground, runway 05L threshold behind it, and 05R threshold beyond the band of trees, right down in Mobberley.

Looking towards the Fairey Hangars, and beyond, the new warehouse park on the far side of the Wilmslow road

The GPO tower on Crocker Hill between Macclesfield and Congleton on the horizon, the hill of Alderley Edge in the foreground, with the new 'Waters' building prominent just across the Bollin Valley from the airfield.

We ascended to the VCR 6 floors by lift. This is the alternative - the fire escape stairs within the 'tube' of the tower. It's a long way down!

The radar room, on the ground floor

On the ground floor is the radar room, housing Approach Control, who 'pick up' inbound aircraft at about 40 miles out and vector them onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System) for the duty runway, whereupon they are handed over to the Tower controller up in the VCR.

The chap on the right is 'Manchester Approach' (118.525 MHz), the chap on the left is 'Manchester Director' (121.35MHz) who is on duty at busy times as an 'interim' between 'Approach' and 'Tower' to sequence the arrivals onto final for 'Tower'.

The chap in the middle is about to take over 'Approach' so is 'getting the picture'.

When it's very busy, a 'Northern Approach' controller is added to these two, 'Approach' then handling only the southern arrivals.

A close up of a radar display. 

The radar head is on the airfield, but can be supplemented by remote radars piped in from locations such as Clee Hill in Shropshire. The radar data is digitised and fed into a computer, which attaches relevant data to the 'returns' shown on the display.

The display shows the runway 23R centreline, the airport on the centre, and the 23L departure centreline. A Loganair departure is just turning right off 23L, and there are 4 aircraft on final for 23R.

Manchester has replaced the old paper 'flight progress strips' by this electronic version.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Mug exchange at Consall today

Dave Gibson captured the 'mug exchange' today at Consall, where I was duty signaller.

Peaky leaning out of the TKH with the staff (in its leather pouch) in one hand and the CVR mug I'd given Jon Jon a fiver to get for me from the Froghall shop in the other. My left hand went through the loop of the staff pouch as the TKH approached, then onto the mug, while my right hand grabbed the mug from underneath.

Pouch loop ran up me arm, mug safely delivered! Ta loco crew for that!

Cleaned up nicely once I'd removed Peaky's oily coal dust finger marks off it. Just like these two.


Friday, 16 June 2017

A bit of narrow gauging in North Wales

I love the narrow gauge railways of North Wales. I have travelled the Ffestiniog Railway countless times over the decades, and experienced the much more recently re-opened Welsh Highland Railway on a few one-way trips (twice northbound, and once southbound), but had never done a return trip.

I felt the need to spend a couple of days in Porthmadog, where Harbour Station is the common terminus for one end of both railways. Each is two foot gauge, each is steam hauled, but they have very different characters.

The Ffestiniog is a one-time gravity worked slate railway (later converted to steam), bringing the product down from the Blaenau Ffestiniog quarries to the sea at Porthmadog for shipping to UK and world markets.

The Welsh Highland was a short lived conglomeration of narrow gauge lines between Porthmadog and Dinas, on the north coast of Wales. It failed in the early years of the last century, but was, amazingly, re-incarnated by the Ffestiniog Railway several years ago, extended at both ends beyond its original limits, and now runs from the same Harbour Station as the Ffestiniog Railway, to Caernarfon on the North Wales coast.

I booked a hotel in Porthmadog for two nights commencing Monday 12th June, and bought a train ticket Wilmslow to Porthmadog return (£29 for one of the most scenic rail journeys in UK; far cheaper than the petrol I'd use if I drove; and so much more enjoyable! Who says UK has high rail fares?).

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Approaching Fairbourne on the Cambrian Coast line in an Arriva Wales train from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli, which I will ride as far as Porthmadog

Barmouth, a little further up the Cambrian Coast line

That afternoon I was seated in the train about to ascend the Ffestiniog Railway line to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and back. Our locomotive, Double Fairlie 'David Lloyd George', having coaled and watered, here makes its way past my carriage window to the head of the train.  

The locomotive was built in 1992 at the railway's Boston Lodge works, and is the most recent Double Fairlie locomotive in the world and also the most powerful locomotive on the railway. It was originally built to burn oil rather than coal. It was returned to service in May 2014 following overhaul, fitting of new power bogies, and conversion to coal firing.

Very welcome on a warm afternoon; Welsh Farmhouse Cider served by on board stewards at table. Note the map of both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways etched into the table top.

As the train climbs from the coast up the continuous grade towards its upper terminus, the views over the Vale of Ffestiniog open out

The railway is built on a constant gradient falling towards the coast, as it was originally gravity-worked; trains of slate wagons ran down to the sea by gravity alone, under the control of a brakesman. The horse that would haul the empty wagons back up to the slate quarry rode in a horse wagon on the back of the train. A result is that line zig-zags its way down the valley side to maintain the constant gradient, so I was able to photograph our locomotive (above) from my seat on the train.

In the 1950s, before the railway was restored, a hydro electric power station was built near Tanygrisiau. Its reservoir flooded the original track bed and in the 1960s and early '70s the railway built a 'deviation' around the flooded section incorporating a spiral to gain height, and a new tunnel to replace the flooded one. The original track bed can be seen (above) entering the northern end of the reservoir.

The power station reservoir seen from its dam. The power station itself can be seen on the right shore of the reservoir, our train have just passed behind it to reach this point.

At the Blaenau Ffestiniog terminus, 'David Lloyd George' runs around its train for the journey back down to Porthmadog

Before coupling onto the train, the locomotive takes on water to replenish its tanks. The fireman has to clamber up to wrap the 'bag;' (canvas water pipe) around the water crane after use, presumably to keep it out of the reach of vandals. 

On the Double Fairlie, the driver stands on the right, the fireman on the left, with the one-piece boiler passing between them through the cab. The loco has two fireboxes, both on the fireman's side, and two injectors, one on each side. It also has two regulators, one for each power bogie.

The Ffestiniog abounds in lovely detail, like these highly varnished benches on the station platforms. They must have quite a number of dedicated volunteers.

Back at Porthmadog, 'David Lloyd George' is uncoupled from the train to run forward to the coaling and watering point. When the incoming Welsh Highland Railway train arrived at Porthmadog from Caernarfon, its Garratt locomotive was coupled to the Double Fairlie, and pair set off across the Cob to Boston Lodge for disposal. 

Here is a video of that Welsh Highland train from Caernarfon arriving in Porthmadog, and crossing the Britannia road bridge into Harbour Station:

Next morning (Tuesday 13th) I was back at Harbour station for a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway to its Caernarfon terminus and back. Before my train's stock was shunted into the station I watched the departure of the first Ffestiniog train to Blaenau. Here, Double Fairlie 'Iarll Merionnydd' moves up from the coaling bay to position onto its train. 

'Iarll Merionnydd'  or 'Earl of Merioneth' was built in 1979, the first Double Fairlie built by the restored Ffestiniog Railway, and the only one of its kind to deviate from the classic design with the cuboid side tanks. 

Its days are numbered as it is soon to be withdrawn. Its bogies will be removed for use on New-build double Fairlie "James Spooner".

The Fairlie's cab; the reversing lever is prominent in the foreground (on the driver's side of the cab), while the two regulators (one for each power bogie) can be seen atop the boiler. The boiler pressure gauge is on the forward cab wall, and the driver's boiler water gauge glass can just be seen to the right of the cab, obvious by its black and white striping which makes the water level much easier to see (the diagonal stripes are refracted to horizontal by the presence of water in the glass - or not!).

The Garratts on the Welsh Highland are repatriated ex-South African Railways, most being built in Gorton, east Manchester. Here is our Garratt for the day, no. 87. This one was built by Belgian company Société Anonyme John Cockerill

The signalman chats to the Fairlie's driver just before departure

The Ffestiniog train having departed, our Garratt brings the Welsh Highland stock out of the siding to position it in the platform

Being outside the school holiday season, the trains were not too full. Here is the interior of our Welsh Highland coach.

Our turn to cross the Britannia road bridge, northbound across Snowdonia bound for Caernarfon

On the northern outskirts of Porthmadog the Welsh Highland two-foot gauge tracks cross the Network Rail standard gauge lines (four foot eight and a half inches, above) on a flat crossing. In reinstating the long derelict Welsh Highland Line, the Ffestiniog Railway Company performed many seeming miracles, such as reclaiming disused track bed from farmers who had used it for field access for decades. Not least of their achievements was establishing this flat crossing across Network Rail's main line from Pwllheli to Machynlleth and the associated signalling complications to ensure safe train separation between operations on the two railways.  

Here is a video of our train leaving the Glaslyn estuary and beginning the climb to Pont Croesor:

Click here to see the video

Here is a video of our train setting off from Nantmor, the second station north from Porthmadog:

Last time I travelled this line I had superb weather with great views of Snowdon summit. Not today though, with low cloud over the mountains.

A Garratt in kit form! This dis-assembled locomotive is awaiting attention, stored by the sheds at Dinas.

A Garratt and a castle; our locomotive detached from its train at the Caernarfon terminus, ready to run-around for the return journey.

The station at Caernarfon is temporary, as construction of a new station on the same site is about to commence.

This overhead view of our loco and train at Caernarfon shows how the Garratt's front power bogie carries the water tank while the rear one carries coal as well, the locomotive itself being suspended between the two bogies

'Girl on a train'. At a passing loop on the return journey we passed the Porthmadog - Caernarfon train.

A glimpse of the sea to the south as we approach the Aberglaslyn Pass on our descent from the mountains of Snowdonia to Porthmadog

Here is a video of our train crossing the Britannia road bridge and entering Harbour Station, Porthmadog, this time filmed from the train:

On the morning of Wednesday 14th I walked to Porthmadog station to catch the 09:52 train home. Here's a different view of that flat crossing, where the two foot gauge Welsh Highland line crosses the standard gauge Network Rail line, this time photographed from the Arriva Wales train to Machynlleth and on to Shrewsbury. Note the gates across the narrow gauge line.

Barmouth bridge, viewed from the train on the journey south along the glorious Cambrian Coast line.
From Machynlleth the Arriva Wales class 158 picked up its skirts and sped to Talerddig passing loop on the faster mid Wales line, where we stopped to allow the opposite direction train to pass (all these Welsh lines are single track). After that brief stop we were soon up to speed again, stopping at Caersws, Newtown, and Welshpool before I left the train at Shrewsbury. After a wait in the station it continued on its way to Birmingham International.

 Another Arriva Wales train took me to Wilmslow from Shrewsbury, one of the comfortable class 175 units on a South Wales to Manchester service. I was there by 14:45, in nice time for the 14:54 No.88 bus from the station to home.


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A step back in time

I began my career in IT in 1970 with Burroughs Corporation in hardware support, later joining Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). By the end of that decade micro programme control was replacing TTL logic chips in computer systems, and one could no longer use an oscilloscope to trace logic signals from gate to gate to isolate faults to component level. Instead, the job was becoming de-skilled, faults being fixed by changing entire logic boards in the system. It was time for a change in career direction.

Early in 1982 I made that change, moving from DEC to join Systems Programming Ltd (SPL) a small software house in south Manchester. SPL had evolved from the IT department of Stockport engineering company, Simon Carves and employed probably fewer than one hundred people at the Battersea House, Heaton Mersey, office.

 Former Battersea House, Heaton Mersey, some decades after it was the home of SPL

DEC had been a fun company to work for with an active social scene, but coming to SPL was quite a culture change; from a large fairly formal US Corporate to a somewhat chaotic British 'small firm' atmosphere. The work, initially as Project Engineer, was quite a move away from what I'd been used to; more akin to project management than computer engineering.

Most of my colleagues were software professionals though I worked in the Hardware Group, initially responsible for the build and delivery of several process control systems for the nuclear power industry. I found the atmosphere at SPL, among many obviously 'smart' but fun loving folk, to be enormously stimulating. Everyone I know who worked there looks back on the SPL days at Batterea House with happy memories. We were a creative, fun, witty, and friendly bunch. The atmosphere was laid back but professional.

It couldn't last, and it didn't. SPL was not particularly financially successful though we (at least in the Hardware Group) were never short of work. Pretty much co-incident with leaving Battersea House for nearby Haw Bank House in Cheadle, we were taken over by Systems Designers, who later took over Scicon, the company becoming SD Scicon. The SPL name was lost, as indeed was SD Scicon when US computer services giant Electronic Data Systems (EDS) took us over in 1992.

The happy days of Battersea House didn't really survive into SD Scicon days; life became a bit more serious and I was moving between the Hardware Group and sales support, spending a lot of my time on bid work. The SD takeover had been a bit of a culture shock, but the EDS one was an earthquake in comparison, bringing to Cheadle a very different 'hard Texan' culture. EDS disbanded the Hardware Group making almost all its members redundant, a cull which I survived because by then I was almost entirely working in sales support.

By the mid 1990s the company had moved a short distance to Abney Hall and the adjacent Abney Court, and many of the Battersea House contingent were no longer with us. I remained with the company until I retired in 2008 as a Solution Architect. The company I retired from was completely different to the one I had joined in 1982. I think it is a widespread phenomena that the workplace is less fun these days than it was in the '70s and '80s, but the contrast between SPL and EDS was perhaps more marked than most in that respect.

Hardly surprising, therefore, that those of us who enjoyed those heady days in Battersea House might wish to meet up and see if that old magic was still there. Ruth Evans took on the task of organising an SPL reunion BBQ, and a great job she made of it. She researched the whereabouts of all the ex-SPLers who were traceable and invited them to The Northern Lawn Tennis Club in West Didsbury last Saturday evening (3rd June 2017). She traced forty five folk, of which twenty three were present on Saturday, making a total of thirty six attendees including partners. Some could not join us as they were away on holiday.

Such was the 'Battersea House Magic' we had people attend the event who had travelled a long way to be with us, from as far as Australia (Gary Conwell), Italy (Pietro Casanova), and the Scottish Highlands (Alastair and Mary Ross).

Here are some pictures I took that evening. Please click on any if you wish to see a larger image:

 A general view of 'our' room at The Northern Lawn Tennis Club; Trevor Marchbank, Pietro Casanova, and Nigel Parsons on the left, Dave Cundy facing the camera, Brendan Markland and Brian Dooley back to camera, Mike Allen holding the glass, my wife Chris, and Ruth's Dick (as he was known by everyone at SPL), on the right.

 Graham Morris and wife, Liz

 In an adjoining room Ruth had put up pictures from SPL events, and laid out some on tables along with some documentation dating from SPL days. Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, with Dick in the background.

Some of Ruth's pictures

Brendan Markland with Ray Elliot. Ray is the only current employee of the company with continuous service right back to SPL days in Battersea House (nearly 40 years); quite an achievement, and good to see someone is still out there earning our pensions!

Hilary Exton McGuinness, Gary Conwell, Nigel Parsons, Tim Exton McGuinness

Graham serenades Liz. Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, and Trevor Marchbank look on. 

Geoff Brown and 'Cundyman' (Dave Cundy) 

Brendan gave a speech remembering some of those who could not be with us. The SPL days were a long time ago and sadly some who were there have since passed away. He also updated us about Colin Myles, a major driver in SPL's success before I joined, but who was unfortunately not well enough to attend the event.

Assembled guests listening to Brendan. Brian and Val Dooley in left foreground, Alastair and Mary Ross behind, Tim Hermolle, Jonathan Smith, Trevor Marchbank, Nigel Baker Brian (NB squared in SPL speak) standing at rear, Nigel Greensitt seated foreground, Pietro Casanova, Mike Allen, Dave Cundy, and Geoff Brown seated right.

Brian Dooley and Graham Wright in animated conversation. Ruth Evans on their left, Paul Stanley to the right.

 Jonathan Smith, Nigel Parsons, and Trevor Marchbank

Dick, Hilary Exton-McGuinness, and Ruth Evans 

I worked closely with Andy for many years, a delightful colleague. Sadly he suffered bowel cancer; it went into remission, but recently returned with a vengeance. Andy was hoping to be at the reunion but it wasn't to be. Ruth, Graham Wright, Steve Woods, and myself attended his funeral on 25th May.  

Finally, here is a photograph showing nearly all of the attendees (please click on the picture for a larger image):

Left to right: Kay Moffatt, Jon Moffatt, Chris Chadwick, Val Dooley, Brian Dooley, Vince Chadwick, Christine Brown, Geoff Brown, Gary Conwell, Ruth Evans, Deborah Greensitt, Liz Morris, Nigel Greensitt, Brendan Markland, Dave Cundy, Sandy Cundy, Graham Wright, Hilary Exton-McGuinness, Paul Stanley, Graham Morris, Sandra Allen, Mike Allen, Mary Ross, Jonathan Smith, Tim Hermolle, Nigel Parsons, Trevor Marchbank, Alastair Ross, Ray Elliott, Carol Marchbank, Sue Baker-Brian, Nigel Baker-Brian, Pietro Casanova.

Heartfelt thanks to Ruth for organising such a splendid event!