Thursday, 1 November 2007

Off the Road

'Thomas' during the re-railing process.
Nothing brings a chill to a railwayman like the phrase "They're off the road" when there's been a derailment. Whatever the nature of the incident, dislocation of services is the inevitable result.
Saturday, 6th October 2007 started well enough. 'Coventry No. 1', posing as 'Thomas', was lit-up, examined and oiled ready for service. The engine was moved down to the shed outlet signal to await the signalman. The signalman arrived and, shortly after, the signal dropped to proceed. The engine gave a short whistle, as an acknowledgement to the signalman and a warning to people in the vicinity of the impending movement. The brake was released and the regulator eased open until the locomotive just started to move. Almost at once, there was a shouted warning so the regulator was shut and full brake applied. The signal had been replaced to danger! Worse, the trap point beyond the signal had been moved to the throw-off position. This meant that the rails on which the locomotive was running were no longer parallel but intentionally divergent so as to derail runaway vehicles. In slow motion, the first wheelset 'fell in' as the gauge widened and the locomotive lurched sideways. This lifted the last wheelset just clear of the rails and, as the locomotive came to a stand, the gauge widening caused the middle wheelset to 'fall in', causing the locomotive to lurch in the opposite direction. The locomotive stopped with all wheels off, at an angle of about 15 degrees.
First considerations are always safety. Thankfully, nobody had been injured in this very low speed derailment and the public were not involved. Despite the 'cant' of the engine, there was no danger of the locomotive tipping over. Handbrake on and cylinder drain cocks open made the engine as secure as possible. Both gauge glasses confirmed that there was plenty of water in the boiler to cover the firebox crown, despite the locomotive not being level. Next, the locomotive was examined looking for any damage caused by the derailment, paying particular attention to the boiler. No damage was found. 'Throwing out the fire' was considered but, with only a moderate fire, full water tanks and injectors working, it was decided to just let the fire burn down, maintaining the boiler water level using the injectors.
With all wheels off, re-railing the locomotive was going to be quite a task. If some wheels remain on the rails, it may be possible to pull the locomotive back on with a minimum of packing. Sometimes, a locomotive can drag itself back on under its own power. This was not the case here.
Every available volunteer reported to assist in the re-railing but the key is to have somebody in charge who knows what he's doing. Fortunately, Roy was available and, under his direction, jacks, wooden packing, heavy steel plates and short lengths of rail were collected from around the site. It took some hours to get the locomotive into a position where it might be dragged back onto the rails. At that stage the 'Jocko', a class 08 diesel electric shunter, was summoned and connected to the steam locomotive by chain. The towing operation was carried out 'dead slow', a few inches at a time. The 350 h.p. shunters are ideal for this sort of job. Each time we stopped, the handbrake was applied on the steam locomotive, whilst the position of the wheels was assessed before the next 'pull'. The steam locomotive returned to the rails without further incident. The next morning, the locomotive had a further inspection. One copper oil line had pulled out of its gland and after rectification, the locomotive returned to traffic.
In the subsequent enquiry, the driver was completely exonerated, but it didn't make me feel any better. What did make me feel better was deputising at short notice for the booked driver on 'Thomas' on Sunday 13th October. We had what seemed like one of the busiest 'Thomas' days I can remember. In the afternoon, the train was re-inforced to 6 coaches. With 'six on' running into Platform 2, you can't get the locomotive adjacent to the water crane without setting the whole train back, so we used Platform 1 instead. The locomotive worked well and the success of the day partly made up for the disaster of the previous weekend.