Tuesday, 1 May 2012

'Thomas' at the Battlefield Line

'Thomas' was performing at the Battlefield Line on four days during April 2012. At this time, Britain was suffering from an Official Drought so, predictably, it rained most of the time I was there. I missed the first day, Saturday 21st April, because I was driving at Peak Rail but on the next day, I was rostered to drive 'Daisy' the DMU.

Sunday 22nd April 2012

If you've followed earlier posts, you'll be aware that we're currently using the single-unit 'Bubble Car' 55005. This, obviously, doesn't have the passenger capacity of the 2-car set but, since only half of the 2-car set is currently under repair, the other half of the 2-car set has been coupled to the 'Bubble Car' to give a slightly odd looking 2-car formation. I was always impressed with the inherent flexibility of these multiple units where each coach had standard buffers, standard drawgear, standard vacuum and air hoses and standard jumper cables. This meant that they could, where necessary, attach vacuum fitted vans as tail traffic. In addition, in the event of a problem with any vehicle in a set, a coach from another set could be readily substituted on a 'mix and match' basis.

I remember once when I was working the Museum Signal Box at Birmingham Railway Museum, the adjacent Tyseley diesel depot sent across a single driving power car to turn on the Museum turntable so that they could make one good set out of two faulty ones once the vehicle had been turned so that the driving cab faced the direction they wanted. A 1-car DMU with a corridor connection on the rear looked very odd!

During preparation, one important point to check was that the sliding door on the corridor connection leading nowhere was secured. The door lock requires a standard 'No. 1 Key' and there should also be a 'French Bolt' on the outside for further security. There was a slight delay sorting out one cab where the AWS settings had been altered and that made us a little late into traffic but we performed five 'Daisy Shuttles' during the day, one coupled to 'Thomas'.

I still imagine that a day on the DMU is going to be relaxing but, on a 'Thomas' event, that's not really so. In between services, the DMU is stabled on the DMU siding out of the way. During the lay-by I usually walk down to the station but sufficient time must be allowed for walking back up to the DMU and getting ready to bring the empty stock into Platform 1 when required. Once passengers are loaded and the main train has returned to Platform 2, 'Daisy' is 'turned out' onto the single line for a short run to the vicinity of Headley's Crossing. The, the driver has to change ends. With the 2-car unit or the 1-car 'Bubble Car', the driver can walk through the train, greeting the passengers on the way. But, with the current configuration, the driver has to climb down onto the track (remembering to take the Single Line Staff), walk the length of the train (whatever the weather) and climb back into the cab at the Shackerstone end. We then drive back to Platform 1 at Shackerstone, allowing the passengers to leave the train. Most passengers will then make their way across the barrow crossing at the north end (the footbridge is currently out of use) to join the Main Train on Platform 2. The driver changes ends again and drives the empty DMU back to the DMU Siding for the next lay-by.

If possible, some engines are shut down for economy during the lay-by but to be able to do a rapid 'Cab Start' when the engines are re-started, you need to have sufficient air pressure to operate the electro-pneumatic controls. Usually, some engines are kept running to maintain air pressure. With low air pressure, a 'Ground Start' must be performed, walking from engine to engine 'on the floor' and operating the individual manual engine control panels which each incorporate a manual throttle control. Initial start-up each morning during preparation is, of course, a 'Ground Start'.

Adjacent to each engine, mounted on the underframe, is a manual engine control panel. There's also an adjacent manual throttle control (not shown in this picture).

Well, I enjoyed the day but we had more-or-less continuous heavy rain and strong winds so I felt sorry for our passengers. I was able to book off nice and early but, with the bad weather, the walking up and down the yard to and from the DMU and (particularly) all the climbing up and down, I felt as if I'd had quite a hard day.

There's more information about DMUs here.

Saturday 28th April 2012

'Thomas' stands by the water crane at Shackerstone in the rain.

This time, I was on 'Thomas' which meant signing-on at about 6.15 a.m. 'Henry' (the Great Western '38') was half hidden in the gloom in the back of the shed, with 'Thomas' nearer the doors. Sam and Dave were busily engaged on various tasks and 'Thomas' was already in steam, having had a decent 'warming fire' put in on Friday evening. The '38' was standing over the pit and, since neither engine had sufficient pressure to move, I resigned myself to oiling round without benefit of a pit. At some point, I knew we'd move over the pit to empty the ashpan but, when it's possible to oil round without a pit, I tend to prefer it rather than risk running out of time. It was certainly possible to oil round and examine the locomotive without a pit but it was also very dirty and fairly unpleasant. You tend to emerge with stained overalls generally looking like 'The Creature from the Black Lagoon'. Once the pressure had come up, we arranged with John on the '38' to push him further into the shed so that we could clear the ashpan. Once unhooked from the '38' we moved out into the daylight to await our first move.

The Fat Controller joined us on the footplate for our debut appearance. In this Politically Correct era, I'm amazed we can still say 'Fat Controller' rather than, say, 'Avoirdupois-challenged Controller'. On the given signal, we moved down to Platform 1, whistle blowing furiously, to break the ceremonial tape which had been stretched in front of us. The DMU came into Platform 1 'on top of us' to form the 10.10 a.m. 'Daisy Shuttle'. Once she'd departed on her short trip, we moved across to the head of the 6-coach train in Platform 2. Whilst on shed, we'd 'borrowed' the water hose that the '38' had been using and managed to almost fill our side tanks - with 6-coaches standing in the platform we could not get to the water column.

Originally, our train had been timetabled to be 'top and tailed' with the '73' but the diesel had been delayed by a small brake problem so we were told we'd be going on our own with the (late running) 10.30 a.m. departure. That was fine with all three of us on the footplate and we had a good run to Shenton, ran round and had an even better run back to Shackerstone, stopping at Market Bosworth in both directions. The engine steamed well and is a lively runner but there's now a fair bit of wear on the 'bottom end' (axleboxes and motion) which discouraged excessive speed. The weather was overcast with a rather cold wind but without the lashing rain of the previous Sunday.

I think the '38' took the 11.40 departure and, once the main train had left, we watered at the now-accessible water column before becoming involved in engine races with the now-repaired '73', the 'there's-a-fish-in-the-water-tank' playlet and the 'Thomas' song 'the-wheels-on-Thomas-go-round-and-round'. When the '38' got back 'Daisy' made another foray down the line and then 'Thomas' and the '73' top-and-tailed the 12.55 p.m. 'Lunch on Thomas' train to Shenton. We continued with races, playlets and songs until the 3.00 p.m. 'Daisy Shuttle' when we coupled onto 'Daisy' and Stuart drove us up to Headley's Crossing and then I brought us back to Platform 1 at Shackerstone. With so much going on, I'm a bit hazy over who did what but I think the '38' did the 3.20 p.m. departure, allowing us to do more races, games and singing before moving onto the rear of the train with the '73' on the front for the 4.30 p.m. 'Tea on Thomas' train. We were still running late partly because of the need to ensure all the passengers who'd booked for the service had actually made it onto the train. Martin on the '73' said he was happy to have a little banking assistance on the uphill sections (the 4-cylinder English Electric diesel engine on the Class 73 is only rated at 600 h.p.) so, between us, we had a fairly spirited run to Shenton. We only stood for a few minutes and then we got the 'Rightaway' for the return journey. We put in another lively run on the way back but the Line Speed Limit is only 25 m.p.h. and parts of the line have lower limits, as shown below.

Location Speed m.p.h.
Shenton Station (to Ground Frame) 5
Underbridge 26 (approach to Market Bosworth) 5
Market Bosworth Station (Signal Box to Bridge 27) 10
Adjacent Headley's Crossing (Relaid track) 10
Shackerstone Approach (Barton Lane overbridge 32 to Signal Box) 10
Shackerstone Station (signal box to stop board on Plat 1 and 2) 5

Back at Platform 2 at Shackerstone, we quickly 'unhooked' and dropped down the north end so as to reach the shed via Platform 1 and the ground frame. Sam, Dave and I agreed we'd had an enjoyable day and it didn't take us long to clean the fire, fill the boiler and complete disposal.

Detail pictures of this locomotive taken at previous events.

Sunday 29th April 2012

The 1-car unit coupled to half of the 2-car unit stands opposite the signal box at Shackerstone ready for the next run.

I returned to Shackerstone the following day, rostered on 'Daisy' again. It had been very wet on the previous Sunday (as I described above) but the 29th excelled itself with gale force winds combined with lashing rain. On the way to Shackerstone, we'd found a large tree brought down across our road (bringing a telephone cable down with it). There was just room to creep by the obstruction by using the verge. After this experience, I was not surprised when Chris, the Signalman, asked if I could do a Line Inspection with the DMU because of the risk of obstructions on the railway caused by the high winds.

I'd less than an hour before the first scheduled passenger departure at 10.10 a.m. when I was due to operate a 'Daisy Shuttle' prior to the first train to Shenton at 10.30 a.m. In the lashing rain and wind, I carried out the examination of the DMU and did a 'Ground Start' of the four 150 h.p. underfloor diesel engines as quickly as possible. Once the engines had produced sufficient air pressure for the electro-pneumatic controls to operate, I was able to come 'off shed', change ends, and set off for Shenton with Dave as an observer collecting the single line staff from Chris at the Signal Box as we passed. We didn't hang about but, of course, we had to comply with the speed restrictions shown in the table above and keep a good look out not just for obstructions but for anything which might become an obstruction. The heavy rain didn't help, of course. The windscreen in front of the driver is provided with an air-operated windscreen wiper We had an uneventful run to Shenton. There were plenty of twigs blown around but nothing of any size either on the line or in obvious danger of becoming detached. I changed ends again and we returned to Shackerstone once again keeping a good look out. There had been some fairly drastic 'cutting back' or removal of trees, reducing the potential threats. On arrival at Shackerstone Box, I had to climb down and go to the box to make an entry in the Train Register Book about the inspection and the result.

I then moved 'Daisy' into Platform 1 in time to board our first passengers. Probably because the wind and the rain discouraged hanging about on the platforms, we took lots of passengers on the first run.

Then the '73' and 'Thomas' took the first service train to Shenton. When they arrived back, after an uneventful trip, we made the second 'Daisy Dash' to Headley's. The rain and the wind continued unabated.

By the time we arrived back at Shackerstone, the '38' was coupled to the main train ready to take the next Shenton departure. The small tender fitted to the '38' gives good visibility when travelling tender first but is not much fun in bad weather so the crew were rigging the Storm Sheet (or Cab Sheet or 'Dodger') between the rear of the cab roof and the front of the tender to keep out the worst of the weather. This problem was mentioned in my earlier post on the '38'. The wind had become really ferocious and we learned later that the '38' struck a branch of a tree on the way out and stopped on the way back to clear the debris. No damage was done (except to the branch).

The weather didn't improve and, for the rest of the day, we were trying to pull back the late running. Despite the foul weather, I had an enjoyable day - I only hope our passengers did.

There's a set of pictures taken on Sunday 29th April here.

There are various posts describing 'Thomas' events. You can find them all here.