Sunday, 22 March 2015

Rain, Sleet and Snow

My first two driving turns in January 2015 were cancelled. I was supposed to be on the '38' at Shackerstone on Sunday, 4th January but the locomotive broke another spring the previous day and was unavailable for service on the Sunday. Then, I was supposed to be at Peak Rail on Sunday 18th January but 'Lord Phil' suffered injector problems the previous day and, again, my turn was cancelled. So the first turn I had was 'Lord Phil' at Peak Rail on Sunday, 22nd February with Dave Rimmer (Fireman) and Jacob Short (Cleaner).

Peak Rail, Sunday, 22nd February 2015

'Lord Phil' being prepared for duty on the outside pit at Rowsley.

The Peak Rail Winter Timetable features four round trips from Rowsley to Matlock Riverside (our original Matlock terminus before the extension to Matlock Town was opened). Matlock Riverside is provided with run-round facilities so, rather than top-and-tail as we currently operate when working to Matlock Town, one steam locomotive runs the service, running round at each end. This keeps the engine crew busy but I prefer this arrangement as more faithful to traditional steam railway working.

Originally, the points at Matlock Riverside were operated by the train crew but, since Matlock Riverside Signal Box was built, a signalman is required to operate the points at each end of the station. However, the Signal Box has not been formally commissioned yet so the signals are not in use. This means that movements are authorised by a Yellow Flag displayed from the signal box. I've previously talked about these arrangements firstly in the post Winter Timetable at Peak Rail and later in the post Peak Rail in early 2014.

The plan for Sunday, 22nd January had called for a Driving Experience Course on the line between Rowsley and Church Lane prior to the first passenger train at 11:15 a.m. but, unfortunately, the lady who had booked the Course had broken her wrist (cycling in Cambodia), necessitating that her course be deferred until a later date. However, as a 'consolation prize', it had been arranged that she would turn up and have a trip on the footplate as an observer on the first passenger train of the day.

The weather forecast for the day had not been very encouraging but when I arrived on site it had been cold but dry. Since steam locomotives at Peak Rail are prepared in the open, it's always better if you can carry out oiling and examination in dry weather: you can quickly get quite wet (and miserable) when the weather doesn't co-operate.

Our lady driving candidate arrived with Peak Rail Fireman Mike Shelton as we were completing preparation. Once I'd obtained the Train Staff, now an Electric Token, for the Rowsley - Church Lane single line (which we needed to operate the crossover at the south end of Rowsley Station), we made our way across to our five-coach train waiting in the platform. Under the watchful eye of Ken, the Guard, the Trainee Guard called us on to the stock and we 'tied-on'. There was time for a welcome bacon bap and cup of tea before departure.

The day proceeded as scheduled (and as described in the reports linked above). We had rather mixed but tolerable weather so by the time we'd returned to shed and disposed of 'Lord Phil' Dave, Jacob and I were tired but in good spirits

Peak Rail, Sunday, 1st March 2015

Just 7 days later, I was back at Peak Rail for the first day of the 'Main Season' timetable so there were changes - five round trips during the day running to Matlock Town (not Matlock Riverside) and top-and-tailing with 'Penyghent' on the north end. This time, Phil Mason was the Fireman and Jacob was, once again, our Cleaner.

Before the passenger service commenced, we'd a two hour Driving Experience Course but under new arrangements introduced this year. I've described the typical format of Driving Experience Courses at Peak Rail in a post here. Since writing that post, there have been a number of changes but picking up the trainee at Darley Dale and operating on the single line from Darley Dale to Matlock Riverside have remained the same. But under the new arrangements, the trainee is picked up at the platform at Rowsley and the single line from Rowsley to Church Lane is used for operations. In addition, the Trainee can now pick up a Brake Van and carry out limited shunting movements around Rowsley. A Plough Brake Van (used by Engineers to spread ballast) had been left on the Loading Dock for us. When the plough at either end of the vehicle has been raised, the Plough Brake can be used like any other sort of goods brake van. A Plough Brake is often referred to as a 'SHARK', because that was a common telegraph code for the vehicle.

The vehicle in the foreground is a Plough Brake.

Once we'd joined up with our driving trainee, I explained the driving controls and, light engine, he took us to Church Lane and back a couple of times, displaying good judgement. We then spent some time with the Plough Brake, using all three ground frames at Rowsley (South End, North End, Traps at north end of Loop), giving our trainee experience of operating ground frames as well. He also did some firing with Phil explaining the principles of Boiler Management on a steam locomotive. All too soon, we had to move across to our train and, once called on by the guard, couple up and start carriage warming. We had to replenish our saddle tank with water from the 'brown tank wagon'.

The 'brown tank wagon' used as a water tank at the south end of Rowsley station.

Up until then, the weather had been cold but dry. As soon as we got the "Right Away" from the Guard, it started to rain fairly hard. Although the front of the cab has two 'spectacles' - hinged, glazed windows - for forward visibility, with rain driving against them, they rapidly become useless. Windscreen wipers, of course, are not provided. You can rotate the window and wipe the outside clear but with heavy rain, they become obscured again in seconds. You can partially open the window and try to keep a lookout through the opening but the effect is often to channel wind and rain straight into the driver's face. So I normally end up leaning out of the side of the cab in any case, as I tend to do in good weather, getting a good soaking in the process.

Some steam locomotives had a narrow, hinged brass frame carrying a toughened glass 'sidescreen' on each side of the cab which could be hinged outwards to deflect the worst of the weather when required (and hinged flat in places of limited clearance. I remember many years ago reading a Local Instruction about retracting sidescreens in Berkswell Tunnel).

The Stanier cab from 48624 during restoration. In between the two side windows (front fixed window on the left, sliding rear window on the right) the vertical sidescreen is folded flat against the cab side.

I was reminded of a similar trip in poor weather at the Battlefield Line in 2014 (described in the post Another Busy Week) and one of my sayings: "Anyone can work on the footplate in good weather. It takes an engineman to do it in bad weather."

But the rain didn't continue - before long, it had changed to sleet which seemed even more chilling. However, once we arrived at Matlock Town, we would be dragged back to Rowsley by 'Penyghent' so it was possible to 'thaw out' by the boiler backhead for a while. However, the driver is not relieved from checking signals and keeping a lookout. Once arrived at Rowsley, we deemed it prudent to take water. Particularly when steam heating is being provided for the train, water (and, of course, coal) consumption is increased. It's desirable to not run the locomotive water tank too low, as this tends to encourage drawing debris from the tank into the injector, where even small pieces of foreign matter can cause problems, as briefly described in the post The Clack Valve.

For variety, the sleet then turned to snow which didn't seem much of an improvement. At track level, the snow wasn't 'sticking' but the surrounding hills were slowly turning white. We carried on plodding between Rowsley and Matlock Town as called for by the timetable, taking water as required at Rowsley. The snow turned back to penetrating rain but by the time we returned to Rowsley on our last round trip, the rain had more-or-less stopped. It was still cold, so I was glad of my heavy woollen overcoat.

We took the locomotive across to the outside pit and carried out disposal. With three of us to share the work, it didn't take us too long to clear the firegrate, rake out the ashpan, empty the smokebox, wash off the dust, return the tools to the store, fill the boiler, stable the locomotive on Number 2 Road (next to 'Penyghent'), shut down the various footplate fittings, isolate the gauge frames and complete the required report sheet.

Rain, Steam and Speed

The title of this report was inspired by the famous painting 'Rain, Steam and Speed' by J.M.W. Turner (currently achieving renewed celebrity because of a recent film Mr. Turner). Locomotives of that period, like 'Lion' and 'Planet', lacked cabs or, at most, simply had a vertical spectacle plate at the front of the footplate. Oddly enough, when rather rudimentary cabs were introduced, many drivers objected to the change!

'Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway' painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1844.