We have a colourful variety of news items this week, starting with the Waggonway and then covering engineering and buses. We’ve had some rain this week as well, which has helped to cool things down somewhat – though has curtailed the enjoyment of the open top Routemaster somewhat!
Let’s start this post with a short overview of where we are in terms of the tramway, and in particular why we aren’t currently operating it – this being the number one question we receive via social media, visitor feedback and in person…
There are a number of reasons the tramway has not yet reopened. The impact of COVID-19 is largely behind this, though is not exclusively the reason for it. I can boil it all down into three key areas: Infrastructure, Training and Tramcars (Rolling Stock). These are described in more detail below:
Infrastructure. The team of permanent way staff currently numbers two, a third member having left in 2019 at a point we reached a recruitment freeze across the museum. We also wanted to review the way in which we maintain the track (and for which we invited a third-party to audit the tramway for us). From all of this, we decided to upgrade and better formalise the standards in use (in particular, because we operate both railways and tramways and for which different approaches are sometimes necessary, and which certainly have different tolerances for each type).
Our revised standards were issued in February 2020, just in time for the museum to close the following month! We had taken a view that there would be areas where the new standards exceeded the old, and for which we would risk assess the differences where these might occur (rather than applying a blanket ‘fail’ to such areas). With the team furloughed, and the museum needing to prioritise its front of house staff when limited operations were able to resume, it was not until earlier this year that the infrastructure was able to be tackled. Priority went to the two areas that were easiest to get up and running (and whose operators remained ‘in-ticket’ or very easily refreshed to become so) i.e. the steam team, including the Waggonway and Colliery.
The decision was taken, largely on cost grounds (locomotive hire fees in particular) to mothball the operation at Rowley Station. The latter area already had a number of restrictions in place, shortening the operational running line, due to the need for alignment work on the most easterly section of the running line being necessary. With the work to ensure the Waggonway and Colliery lines are resilient for the next few seasons now drawing to a close, attention is turning to the tramway, where two phases of reopening are envisaged.
The oldest section, from Foulbridge to the Town via Bog and Pillar bends, will be the second to open, due to the need to check alignment and restore cant and ballast shoulders (being adjacent to the road, these are liable to clogging with dirty surface water washing into them). There is also an existing Temporary Speed Restriction on Bog Bend that requires medium-term work to renew the rails in this area. Therefore, the first section to be tackled will be Foulbridge/Entrance/Pockerley/Town East (Bakery). The queueing systems for the Sweet Shop and Pub make working trams into the street and reversing them there impractical at the moment. We had hoped to use assistance from local training providers for some of the bulkier work, but unfortunately this hasn’t yet been possible to arrange. To add to the challenge, pretty much all of our track tools have given trouble or expired, so procurement of replacements is also underway.
Training/Competence. All of the tram drivers (some of whom are presently driving buses) require refresher training, given the prolonged gap in their driving experience. Some require medicals and others are not far off needing them too. Of course, to carry out the refresher training and assessments, an operable tramway is required. Also, carrying out this work in the school summer holidays is not necessarily a practical option!
Tramcars. These are actually in best shape, with electrical testing and examinations having been carried out to enable us to shunt them around the depot. The two-man team of fitters for the tramcars have also been on furlough, as again the museum had to make fullest use of this for as long as possible. Therefore, we can quickly place trams into operation once they have people to drive them and an an operational tramway to run them on. In due course Matt will produce a comprehensive work on the engineering taking place on Gateshead 10. Once the tram is complete mechanically and electrically, we will look to a contract overhaul of the body and finally, a contract repaint. It would be nice to think it will run in 2022, but this very much depends on whether we can commit finances to the project to bring it to fruition.
I hope this goes some way to explaining the present situation and filling some of the gaps where questions inevitably then arise!
Below: Monday morning saw the repaired and repainted semi-open coach inserted back into the train following a period of time to let the paint dry and its fitness to run (FTR) exam. The paintwork looks suitably bright and adds to the rather garish appearance of the train! The green livery is based on the Londonderry Railway’s attempt at VIP transport, the Wellington Coach (for a very good description of this, and the consequences of allowing the Marchioness of Londonderry to use it whilst the paint was wet, see the superb book ‘The Londonderry Railway’ by George Hardy). The yellow/blue/mauve livery of the closed coach is based on watercolour paintings depicting the early S&DR stock built at Darlington Hopetown works. The Brampton coach is varnished, bringing out the best of its pine timberwork, with the crimson being chosen as it complimented the varnished wood and was a traditional colour. Jorden, the Railway Operations and Steam Team Leader, took these photos of the shunt and first trip with passengers.
Below: Later in the day, the train is given the right-of-way, now carrying four groups/bubbles within its consist. The return of the semi-open also, importantly, reinstates a wheelchair accessible vehicle at the Waggonway.
Below: Readers may recall that in 2019 the RHEC outshopped the narrow gauge ‘Wellington Coach’, a somewhat Emmet-inspired take on the story referred to from Hardy’s book. This was finished in two-tone green (the colours are described in the book, with a sketch showing the profile similar to the narrow gauge coach that was inspired by it, along with intriguing reference to a contemporary painting of the coach… One whose whereabouts, as far as I know, are not known), complete with green cushioned seats. In due course it will move to the Waggonway for display, perhaps with a notice describing the original coach’s creation for the visit by the Duke of Wellington to Seaham, and the subsequent wet-paint incident with the Marchioness of Londonderry (and the fate of the unfortunate man who painted it!).
Below: Whilst trains are not running at Rowley, the team are busy reinvigorating the visitor areas around the station and yard. Tony is seen here at work on the allotments, whilst other areas of the gardens are also looking very presentable once again. This work is as engaging as the passing of trains, and it is an important element in ensuring the station does not look forgotten or feel abandoned.
Below: Weeding the lines around the platform area has also contributed to the sense of a working station (which it is), with passenger train operation merely temporarily suspended rather than terminated.
Below: One of the areas requiring PW attention next year is the one in front of the signalbox. We are considering some re-modelling of the track layout here, as the left hand turnout and double slip are a mixture of components, adapted to suit the reconstructed Rowley in the 1970s. We no longer have spare components so I would like to replace the left hander with an alternative point (all of the same type and for which we can obtain spare parts) and possibly pull it back towards the cutting (behind the position from where this photograph was taken). The existing turnout would then replace the double slip, again in a revised location, so as to retain some of the double track in front of the box. We’d then have a reliable station ‘throat’. At the same time, a new trackbed is planned, with installation of new drains a priority in this very wet area too. The running line also needs alignment and levelling work, whilst the curved section needs spot-respleepering and, ideally, relaying on a better drained base. The work to install the outfall pipe from the 1950s town area disrupted the running line trackbed in this area too, creating a hard spot that we need to remove (by deepening the ballast bed). All of this is fairly straightforward, but with a small team and a lot of other work ahead of it in the list of priorities, we won’t be able to make a start on this until mid 2022 at the earliest. Dunrobin is not set to be completed until (current estimate, and subject to revision…) early 2023, so the plan is to align the various threads to allow us to look at re-starting the passenger train operation at Rowley in 2023.
Below: Over in the Colliery, a small quantity of crossing timbers were obtained recently to enable the sleepers carrying point levers to be replaced. Here is the first pair, with a weighted lever replacing the cam-box lever that was previously fitted. Most running is on the curved, diverging, line, with the straight used for locos running around. A weighted lever means they can trail this, check that is has re-set, but save a stop to climb down and change the point – useful when single manning and which brings this in line with the practice employed in the top yard area. Obviously the checking that the point has returned to its original position is a critical one on the part of the driver – a specific rule exists, brought about by a small number of occurrences where the point blades hadn’t closed against the adjacent stock rails properly!
There are two more points to attend to (with a crossing timber also having been replaced last week at the Waggonway). Then the team will move to the Tramway where they will continue recommissioning work ahead of a planned resumption of service in the autumn.
Below: The vacuum brake servo for Darlington 4 was collected on Sunday and by the close of play on Monday, it had been fitted and tested. This view shows the unit, which is fairly substantial, in position. The exhaust was removed to make access easier (rather easier than the removal had been!).
Below: Darlington 4 sat on the pit as the brake servo is readied for testing.
Below: The looks of concentration tell a story as the two pairs of eyes watch the vacuum gauge… All was well with the test, however, and Darlington 4 was completed and inspected on Tuesday.
Below: Crosville 716’s emergency ramp anchor points were fitted on Tuesday, as shown here. This gives an alternative means of egress, should the lift fail. There are a number of drivers in the queue to be trained on this bus, so it operates when type-familiar staff are available, otherwise J2007 is in service. As time passes, more drivers will complete their training on 716 and so it will be out more and more frequently.
Below: Work has resumed on the B-Type, with Rebecca continuing to prepare and paint the top deck seating and panels. Some mechanical work is also taking place, largely with a view to freeing up the pit again by the close of this week.
Below: Chris and Daniel are working on both some adaptation to hold a new clutch master cylinder for the B-Type and machining the Fordson N tractor bottom tank – seen here on the milling machine.
Below: Thursday afternoon and there are buses everywhere! Darlington 4 is now available for service, along with both WAVs as seen here. In service were Rotherham 220, RMC 1510 and the Daimler D-Type.
Kerr Stuart 721
Below: Zoe has collected the two original sandboxes carried on 721 but not reinstated when it was cosmetically restored. The plan is to restore these and refit them as part of its restoration to steam, and replicate the two smaller sandboxes that sat on the front running plate of the locomotive. They are often mistaken for bunkers, but coal was carried loose or simply picked up from stockpiles adjacent to the railway within the gas works – coal never being in short supply in such a location! We will sand these back to see if any original paint remains, but otherwise we are fairly sure that they are dark green, with black edging and yellow lining.
Routemaster RMC 1510
Below: With the summer holidays commencing and Darlington 4’s repairs running down to the wire, Russell appealed to former colleagues at Go North East to see if the ex Northern General Routemaster was available for a week or so (you may recall this bus has operated at Beamish before). Go North East’s managing director Martijn Gilbert went one better and sent his own 1964 Routemaster, RMC 1510, to help out. This is particularly attractive to visitors as it is open topped – and given the prolonged dry weather we have enjoyed lately, it has been a very attractive temporary addition to the fleet. Our thanks to Go North East, and Martijn, for their support once again. The Routemaster is staying with us until Friday 6th August, and will be used where the weather allows…