Brake Blocks & Running Repairs


On Sunday 9th of April I was rostered as ‘Driver 2’ on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. On this turn of duty crew ‘2’ look after the loco while crew ‘1’ have their breakfast and lunch breaks then work the last train and dispose of the loco at the end of the day (aka put it to bed for the night). So once the first train of the day has departed you are available for other jobs that might need doing. On this day I assisted Bruce and Richard changing the brake blocks on Chattenden.

Routine Maintenance

The task was done on the large outside pit

The loco was chocked to prevent it moving and then the brake adjusters slackened off, to give a bit move movement the brake rigging was also disconnected from the main brake shaft. Each brake block is held in place with a pin. In this case the pins are retained with a nut, a lock nut and for good measure a split pin. The pins are inserted through holes in the locos main frames and so the brake rigging has to be aligned to get the pins out and then back in again.

You could probably do the job with two people – one to manipulate the brake blocks while the other deals with the pins. However, a third person use useful to push the brake rigging about to get the new blocks into position.

Last but not least the brakes were adjusted and a check made to ensure that all the split pins were fitted and opened out.

Countess Near Brynelin


A couple of days later Countess disgraced herself and set fire to some dry grass at the side of the line near Coppice Lane. It didn’t amount to much and the fire soon burnt its self out.

The next morning while preparing her for traffic I noticed that there was a gap in the spark arrestor. A search for some fireclay to stop up the hole proved fruitless…. and plans were made for some remedial work to be done at lunch time.

A little later on while I was changing into my clean ‘public facing’ overalls someone came into the locker room to say that Countess had been detached from the train for immediate attention and the train would be leaving 15 minutes late.

There was no space on the tracks outside the workshop so she was taken down the main line to the back of the running shed where a portable arc welder could be plugged into the electrical supply.

Tactical Modification

Richard then undertook the sort of tactical modification that would have typical of the late Pasco Rowe and welded a couple of old and reshaped base-plates to the under side of the spark arrestor base. ( NB Base-plates are small plates about  6″ x 8″ x 1/4″ (150mm x 200mm x 6mm) that go between the wooden sleeper and the rail to spread the load over a wider area.)

Positional Welding

The task was done quickly and in the end the train was only delayed by ten minutes.


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Tree-mendous Achievement

The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway 2016-17 winter hedgebash project has come to a successful conclusion. In just six weekends the gang has made a significant impact on the vegetation alongside the line on the Golfa Bank.


The extent of the site was from Llanfair Lodge adjacent to New Drive level crossing to around a 100 yards west of Nant-Y-Caws a distance of 700 yards (650m). On the south side of the line (fireman’s side) the majority of the trees that have been liberally strewing the the line with leaves have been removed. On the north side activity has been a little more restrained with the majority of the work being restricted to the section between the two cattle creeps.

For the last event of the winter we were able to have a works train to bring in the gang and their tools and to move the cut materials around the site.

Works Train Being Loaded With Brash

Chattenden and the Works Train. Gang members are busy loading brash after a small ash tree was felled.

Loading Brash

A small tree barely 20 feet tall (6m) has an awful lot of branches. All of this has to be moved to a place where it is safe to burn it. The larger logs are removed by rail to the nearest road access.

Loading The Trolley With Logs

At previous weekends during the winter we have relied upon just one, small, four wheeled trolley to move tools and materials.

Before - Looking towards Llanfair

Readers may well question why we go to all this effort to cut down mature trees and out of control hedgerow. Take a look at the picture above. This section of the line was hemmed in and overhung with trees. For the passengers there is little to see from the carriage windows other than greenery. They will now be able to see the surrounding countryside: hills, wooded slopes, pasture with grazing animals. If they are observant and lucky there may be able to watch a buzzard or a red kite going about their daily routines.

From a railway operating perspective there are significant benefits from this work. When in leaf the trees drop sap on the rails when it gets mixed with a little rain the rails become slippery. In the autumn the the leaves begin to fall and they too make the rails slippery. The leaves that lie on the track bed go on the cause further problems. By covering up the sleepers they make it difficult for the track inspectors to do their work. They retain moisture and keep the sleepers damp; a sure fire way of accelerating the rate at which the timbers rot. Then as the leaves begin the break down the fragments clog up the ballast and reduce its ability to drain freely and maintain a firm road-bed.

By way of example of the results achieved:-


Before (October 2016)


After (January 2017)

Other Benefits

Joining a volunteer organisation that runs an eight mile long narrow gauge railway may be a daunting prospect to someone who perhaps has got some spare time, would like to get involved but would like a low risk entry strategy. Joining our Hedgebash Gang does not require a huge learning curve. The skills required are fairly easy to acquire and can largely be picked up by working with other people. Providing a person is reasonable fit, has  some common sense then there is a short(ish) induction session a bit of training they can be up and running in less that half a day.

Over recent years a number of people have begun volunteering with the Hedgebash Gang and moved onto other areas including: fireman, locomotive maintenance, track gang and building maintenance.

Activities are planned to carry on through the summer months. This will focus on keeping the intermediate stations looking neat and tidy – for example grass cutting. There will be a weekend training session in the safe use and operation of strimmers at the end of June.

If you would like to get involved with this or some other aspect of running a railway then why not get in touch ? This link will take you to the volunteering page.

Alternatively you might like to enjoy a ride through hills, fields and woods of rural Mid Wales. We are about 35 miles from Telford, 60 miles from the West Midlands and Stoke-On-Trent, 70 miles from Liverpool and 80 miles from Manchester. Timetables and Fares are here.

Post Script

Unloading At Bonfire Site

A works train comprising of vehicles all of which had their origins on the Chattenden & Upnor Railway in Kent. The diesel loco, Chattenden, was supplied to the Admiralty by the Drewry Car Company in 1949. Low side wagon 33 and high side wagon 65 and behind and last but not least is the Mess Coach, the body was formerly on ex-Zillertalbahn carriage B17 and is now mounted on a C&U bogie wagon chassis.


Posted in Carriage & Wagon, Golfa Bank, Heritage, Lineside maintenance, railroad, railway, vegetation management, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Inspector Calls

With just a few weeks to go before the start of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s 2017 operating season things have been busy at Llanfair Caereinion. On Friday 10th March three locomotives were in steam for a visit from the insurance company’s boiler inspector.

In this picture the Boiler Inspector and his assistant are about to check that there are no leaks from the boiler inside the smokebox of Joan. Note that none of the three locos have their cosmetic dome covers in place.

All three locomotives passed the inspection. Final re-assembly including the spark arrestors can now be undertaken.


The Earl has had the dome and cylinder covers fitted back on. The old boy in the picture is happily puffing away at his pipe while applying a coat of heat resistant black paint to the smokebox.


One of the diesel locomotives, is undergoing a major overhaul. The grey box on legs is its fuel tank. As there was no inspection hatch a hole had to be cut in the top to allow it to be inspected and cleaned. Here the piece of plate that had been removed it being welded back in.


Work continues on the restoration of the Franco-Belge built 0-8-0T 699.01 ‘Sir Defaldwyn’ (This is Welsh for ‘County of Montgomeryshire’).

In the photo above part of the crinoline – the frame that supports the boiler cladding – is being  welded together.

In the photo below the outside of one of nozzles for the Lempor exhaust system is being milled so that it will be a close fit with the other three that make up the blast pipe.


And here is one we did earlier for one of the Beyer Peacocks.

Top View Of Lempor Blast Pipe


One of the Track Gang’s tool wagons has been suffering from the dreaded tin worm and work to replace the angle brackets at the corners can be seen in progress in this photograph.


Progress continues on the replica J Lloyd Peate private owner wagon. The end hoops and side knees that support the planks are in place. Three planks are fitted at each end and when this photo was taken some of the side planks had been positioned to check that they fitted OK.


Last but not least; running a railway has a lot of maintenance burdens. Yes most are to do with recognisable railway equipment or infrastructure but the tools that are used to get the work done also wear out or break down. Above is a photo of the inside of a 230v to 110v transformer – used to provide a relatively safe power source for drills and angle grinders. A crimped joint had corroded, overheated resulting in the aluminium wire melting and rendering it unservicable.

A satisfactory repair was achieved and after PAT Testing it was returned to service.

If you are interested in visiting the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway we start running trains again from April the first. The days we operate and the timetable are here.

If you are interested in volunteering you can expect a warm welcome. We value people with all types of skills and you will have the opportunity to learn new ones as well.

Volunteer at the W&LLR



Posted in Carriage & Wagon, Castle Caereinion, electrical, Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Workshops | Leave a comment

Workshop Week – Part 2

In this instalment:

  • New parts for couplings
  • Ashpan damper door for The Earl
  • Crinoline for 699.01
  • #17 overhaul

Grondana Couplings

Grondana Centre Buffer & Coupling Hook

The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is unique in the UK for using Grondana Couplings. These feature a centre buffer with an integrated draw hook. A screw coupling link is used to link the vehicles together. For the shunter they are a very safe design as there is no need to go between the vehicles until after the movement has stopped. This makes them superior to the previously used chopper couplers or the link and pin type couplers used on many items of industrial rolling stock.

NB The W&LLR does have as small number of vehicles with link & pin couplers but they are not in regular use. e.g. The wagon that the #17’s bonnet is currently stored on shown further down this page.

Our original stock of Grondanas came from the now defunct Sierra Leone Government Railway when it closed in the 1970s. The draw hooks on some vehicles are now approaching the scrapping limit and there are no longer any spares available. To overcome this a batch of draw hooks has been cast in steel.

Hook Drawing

Drawing of cast hook and the welded on link retainer

Hook Parts

Hooks and link retainers

Tack Welding Link Retainer 1

Final positioning of link retainer

Tack Welding Link Retainer  3

Tack welding a link retainer into place

Link Retainer Welded On

Finished Grondana draw hook

Ashpan Damper For The Earl

The Earl’s front ashpan damper door was badly warped. This meant that hot cinders could fall onto the track and air was always entering the ashpan providing a primary air source for the fire.

I removed the old door and then ground out welds that held the hinge bar in place.

A new piece of 6mm thick steel plate was cut to size. This was done using a plasma cutter. The business end of this consists of a hand held torch that is supplied with an electrical power source and compressed air. The operator operates a trigger on the torch and after a few seconds an arc appears at the cutting head. The head is placed on the metal to be cut and almost at once you can start to make the cut. The arc heats the metal and the compressed air blows it away.

The recovered hinge bar was welded onto the new door plate and a bracing piece was also welded on to, hopefully, prevent warping.

Heat Buckled Plate From Old Door

Old, warped, door plate.

Refurbished Ashpan Damper Door

Refurbished door ready to be fitted.

Door Open

Refurbished door in place on the front of The Earl’s ashpan.

Progress on 699.01 – Boiler Cladding Crinoline

Railway steam locomotive boilers are lagged to help retain heat. The lagging is covered by the Boiler Cladding which keeps it in place and also protects the boiler from the elements. The cladding is supported by a metal frame called a Crinoline ( as it is reminiscent of the frames used to support Victorian ladies dresses). The crinoline is made out of steel strip some of which has to be bent into a curved shape.

JB and myself were allocated the task of re-bending the strips that go over the firebox section. They had been started but resembled the new pound coins we will be getting soon.

An existing section of crinoline was tack welded to some spare steel strip to make a jig to bend the parts around.

Crinoline Forming Jig for 699.01 Sir Drefaldwyn

This photo shows the jig with a section of the crinoline we were working on clamped to it. This sort activity proves the theory that it is not possible to have to many clamps in your workshop.


The strip to be formed has to be heated and clamped to the jig. I was doing the heating and JB was putting the clamps on.


A clamp has been put on the red hot section of strip. The whole process had to be done twice per strip.

#17 – Diema Diesel Loco

This is not strictly a Workshop Week task but hopefully of interest.

Diema Overhaul

#17 had been suffering from a lack of power. Put simply a good proportion of the horses, that were supposed to be living under the bonnet, had escaped from the Allis-Chalmers prime mover. During 2016 various contractors were invited to come and inspect the machine with a view to undertaking an overhaul.

Diema Bonnet

The bonnet sitting on a wagon outside the Engineering Office

The Torque Converter Has Been Removed

There is now a gaping hole in the engine bay. The Torque Converter has been removed. The bolts that couple the input side to the engine crank shaft and the starter motor pinion can be seen within the bell-housing. In the foreground is the pneumatic actuator that works the clutch. On the right is the cardan shaft that connects the torque converter to the Forward/Reverse gearbox. The huge fuel tank that sits above the cardan shaft has also been removed. The fuel is used for two purposes – the obvious one of powering the engine and the less obvious one of being the torque converter fluid.

Wot  No Turbo ?

The main suspect in the case of the missing horsepower is the Turbo Charger and it also has been removed for servicing. When in place it bolts onto the exhaust manifold between the pipe on the left that connects to the inlet manifold and the pipe on the right that leads to the exhaust pipe.





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Workshop Week 2017- Part 1

At the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway every year, in mid February, we have what we call Workshop Week. The aim is to push on with getting the locomotives and rolling stock ready for the fast approaching operating season. This year the ‘week’ ran from Friday February 10th through to Sunday the 19th. As it was my wife’s birthday earlier in the week I  attended for just four days from Wednesday  to Saturday.

The following pictures and notes will hopefully give a flavour of what was taking place and perhaps tempt some readers to try a bit of hands-on heritage railway work themselves. There is always work available for people of all levels of experience ranging from complete novices to skilled machinists. Training is available and there is the opportunity to learn new skills.

Lempor Exhaust

Lempor 4 Nozzle Blast Pipe

This photo shows a Lempor four nozzle blast pipe for one of the Beyer Peacock locomotives. Both The Earl and Countess are having their blast pipes replaced this winter. The existing units are badly worn and it makes sense to undertake all the machining and fabricating in a single winter.

These are more complex than a simple one nozzle blast pipe but the improvement in steaming and reduction on coal consumption make them a sound investment.

Top View Of Lempor Blast Pipe

This is a view looking down on top of the blast pipe. Multiple outlets mean that there is an increased surface area to the blast to help draw the fire. The complex shapes of the nozzles, diverging angles and the matched petticoat pipe ensure good gas flow.

Inside View Of Lempor Blast Pipe

Looking from the inlet side. A lot of hour of machining time are taken to turn the nozzles and then mill them to fit together precisely.

If you would like to learn a little more about Lempor exhausts then have a look at the two links below. NB they are now quite old but still useful reading.

Improving The Fleet by David Moseley

Theory Of The Lempor Ejector As Applied To Produce Draught In Steam Locomotives
by L D Porta

Four Handles

What sort of handles ?
Handles for the Mess Coach…..

It would seem that the track gang are being molly coddled and additional grab handles are being provided to help them get into their mobile tea hut. This was one of the tasks I undertook. Basically some 20mm diameter bar was bent into handle shapes and then welded to some little fixing pads. It all sounds so simple doesn’t it.

Heating 20mm bar prior to bending

The bar is put in a jig heated and bent to shape. Even when hot 20mm bar still puts up a bit of a fight. To make matters worse the welding/hot-work bay is rather cramped so working with long lengths of metal requires a bit of planning otherwise the walls and pillars get in the way.

Radial Arm Drilling Machine

The fixing pads were marked out on a length of 25mm x 10mm strip. The pilot holes were drilled on a pillar drill and then opened out to the required size using the 60″ radial arm drilling machine.

Drilling the handle mounting pads

Drilling the 11mm diameter holes that will be used to fix the handles to the Mess Coach.

Pads drilled

All the holes have been drilled. The next task was to cut it up into individual pads.

Handles and Pads on welding jig

Another very simple jig held the parts in the correct alignment for welding.

Four Handles

My part done!

Preparing for paint

‘HG’ preparing a handle for painting.


Elsewhere ‘Gandalf’ was dismantling Countess for attention to the left hand side slide valve. A while ago one of the drain cocks became jammed open and when examined a piece of a copper rivet was found to be the cause. The most likely source of the rivet was one used to hold the valve adjustment shims in place.

We did a similar repair to The Earl a couple of years ago and you can read about that at:

That is the end of the first instalment I will post some more in a day or so.


Posted in Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | 1 Comment

Replica Private Owner Wagon – Update

This is a quick update on the progress of the replica J Lloyd Peate & Sons private owner wagon being built at the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway. Unless credited otherwise photographs are from the author’s collection.

Wagon Chassis

The timber components of the chassis have been assembled and the W Irons fitted to the Welshpool end. The other metal components bolted to the side of the solebar are, from left to right: corner bracket, floor/side knee support bracket, curved washer plate, straight washer plate, corner bracket.

Coupler Body

The coupler body has been fitted to the headstock. The other coupler components will  not be fitted until much later.

W Iron

This is the other side of the chassis. The black metal components below the solebars are the spring hanger brackets.

Drag Box

This view shows the Llanfair end dragbox and the draw bars that connect it to the dragbox at the other end. This assembly links the couplers at each end of the wagon and all the pulling forces pass through it rather than the wooden components.



The Carriage & Wagon Team Leader ‘JB’ had set a target to have a rolling chassis by Christmas. This was achieved on Saturday 17th December.

Photo courtesy of the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway


Posted in Carriage & Wagon, Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | 3 Comments

A Replica Private Owner Wagon

Readers of this blog will be aware that the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway has a small fleet of heritage goods wagons. When the line was first preserved only a small proportion of the rolling stock could be preserved and anyway not all of it had survived until the second half of the twentieth century.

The Carriage & Wagon Team lead by ‘JB’ are currently building a replica of one of the five private owner wagons that belonged to JLL Peate & Sons who were coal and lime merchants.


Wagon Number 2 photographed at R&Y Pickering’s works in 1903

Wooden Wagon Building

A general view showing the two solebars lying on the trestles. Leaning against the wall on the right are the cross members.

Cutting Tenons

JB cutting tenons on the end of one of the solebars

Solebars and Headstocks

A trial assembly of the headstocks and solebars

Drilling Ironwork

The original wagons were scrapped in 1935 and the only known surviving relic is a Cambrian Railways registration plate. All the iron work has had to be made from scratch. In this photograph one of the new ‘W’ irons is having the fixing holes drilled.

'W' Iron on the Radial Drilling Machine

A closer view of the ‘W’ iron being drilled.

To be continued

Posted in Carriage & Wagon, Heritage, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Shooting Trains !

No not with a twelve bore shot-gun but a lot of very expensive cameras.

Over three days in mid October the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway played host to a group of people who were taking part in a ‘Photo Charter’. In simple terms the whole railway was hired out so that the paying guests could take photos of trains in action.

Now of course you can come along on any day when the railway is running and take photos, but, on a normal running day there will only be three passenger trains in each direction. What if the sun isn’t shining when the train comes along ? What if you want the engine to be unkempt and pulling goods wagons ?

The Afternoon Goods Train

The Earl pulling a goods train near Sylfaen

The answer is to take part in a Photo Charter.

The organiser specifies the locomotive to be rostered and what it will be pulling. They will also indicate how clean (or dirty) they would like the loco to be. On this occasion a ‘make-up artist’ came in to give The Earl a make-over.

Grubby Engine

The Earl heavily made up to look like it had not been cleaned for weeks. Personally I think this was overdone as there is little evidence to suggest that the W&LLR engines were ever neglected to such an extent.

Each day the photographers assemble from about eight o’clock and (hopefully) by nine o’clock the train will be on its way to the first location.For a goods train shoot the crew will usually consist of : driver, fireman, goods guard, passenger guard and the liaison person.

Train operation on such occasions requires the implementation of sections of the railway Rule Book that are normally only used for Emergency Working Procedures. For example under normal circumstances the propelling of passenger trains is not permitted. To do this there must be a guard or other competent person riding at the front who is in radio contact with the driver. Such trains must also run at reduced speed.

What you wont see in any of the photos is the carriage that they ride in. Once the train has arrived at the chosen location and the photographers have disembarked it is moved well out of shot and uncoupled. The passenger guard stays with it and has plenty of time to read or even take a nap.

With the photographers and the liaison person safely off the track, and perhaps in a neighbouring field, instructions are then radioed to the driver as to what is required of the first run past.

Passing Ron's Last Hut

The Earl and goods wagons running between the Banwy Bridge and Heniarth Halt

The chances of all the photographers getting what they want in one take is minimal and so multiple runs are needed. The weather can be problematic particularly if there are clouds scudding across the sky and then the loco crew may have to wait several minutes until the ‘light is right’. At Heniarth there is the A458 main road to Dolgellau part the way up the hill side. One run past was spoilt by the presence of a bright blue ready mixed concrete truck passing by at the wrong moment.

Then there is the issue of what some people euphamistically refer to as ‘texture’. To you and me that means smoke or steam coming out of the chimney. Now the gradient profile of the W&LLR is akin to a linear roller coaster. Leaving Welshpool there is a great big climb up the Golfa Bank followed by a short down hill bit, a gently sloping down hill section, an up hill section, followed by a down hill and so on until the end of the line is reached at Llanfair Caereinion. Because of the Golfa Bank (gradient 1:29 or 3.4%) all the engines face chimney first towards Llanfair.

You may have worked out what is coming next….

Many of the better photographic locations are on downhill sections of line. Under normal operating circumstances the train would be coasting with minimal smoke or steam issuing from the chimney. This compounded because we use a soft Welsh coal that contains little in the way of volatile hydrocarbons. In other words the engines don’t make much smoke anyway.

The Farmers Line

The Earl approaching Morgan’s Crossing near Cyfronydd

So to get some of that lovely ‘texture’ various subterfuges are employed. Now the simplest is to run the locomotive with the hand brake on and regulator open. If the event takes place at a time of year when the weather is cool the steam will condenses into nice white clouds.

Dark smoke can be achieved by adding a bit of oil to the fire but this is rather hit and miss and often only last for a few seconds. It the sequence of pictures below there was dark smoke at the chimney for around ten seconds.

img_3317 img_3318

img_3319 img_3320

Dark smoke sequence near Sylfaen that lasted a mere 10 seconds. A bit of steam and the rainbow overhead would yield a much nicer photo.

Another trick is to use old VHS tapes these burn slower and give a moderate amount of smoke. Thomas The Tank Engine, Postman Pat and many other other titles were seen being loaded into the goods brake van for later transfer to the loco coal bunker.

Unusual Livestock aka Railway Photographers

Photographers in one of Phil Morgan’s fields near Cyfronydd

Taking water

Refilling The Earl’s water water tanks. One of the heritage goods wagons contains two x 1 cubic metre tanks and a petrol engine driven pump. Photo by Tim Abbott

One day I was acting as the Liaison person. It was my job to follow the organiser about and turn his requirements into action. Whilst it was the first time I had done this role many years of being on the loco at these events meant I was able to understand the job quickly.

The weather was not kind that day with squally showers, lots of cloud and just a few sunny breaks. Photography had to be crammed into the times when the sun peeped out from behind the clouds. In between it was a case being patient. (One photographer did comment ‘Does the sun have to shine/ Why can’t they just get on with it’.)

While we were near Cyfronydd the organiser yomped off on his own and I was left to make the decisions about when to call in the train. I think I got it right ….

There was bonus to doing the Liaison job – I could take some pictures. No expensive camera for me, just a £70 compact that slips into my pocket.

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Somewhere Under The Rainbow

Cwm Lane Level Crossing

Late afternoon goods train at Cwm Lane level crossing

Golfa Bank

Slogging Up Golfa Bank

Photographs used in this post are all mine unless credited.

More of my photos can be found here

Other peoples photos:-

Daryl Hutchinson click to the right hand side to scroll through

Ron Lines click to the right hand side to scroll through

Tim Abbott click to the right hand side to scroll through


Posted in Cyfronydd, Heniarth, Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, Photographs, railroad, railway, Sylfaen, Welshpool, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tending To The Tamper

Maintaining railway track involves hard physical work. The sleepers and rails are heavy. Then there is the ballast. Each individual lump may only weigh a few tens of grammes but it is required by the ton. The ballast not only goes around the sleepers but also underneath so as to form a firm but flexible road-bed.

Tamping Ballast The Hard Way

Tamping using an electrically powered hammer

Packing, also called tamping, the ballast under the sleepers so as get the track ‘just right’ requires a lot of force. There are a number of ways of achieving this:

  • Shovel packing – basically bashing the stones under using the business end of a shovel.
  • Beater pick – a pickaxe with hammer head which does a similar job to shovel packing.
  • ‘Kango’ hammers – and electrically powered tool that replicates the action of shovel packing.

All of these methods require a lot of hard physical graft. Unless you are very fit you will quickly become tired and at risk of more aches and pains that you ever thought possible.

During the second half of the last century machines were developed that would undertake this task. On the mainline railways ballast tamping machines can pack hundreds of metres per hour.

At the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway we were fortunate to be able to acquire a second hand Plasser tamping machine. Even on our relatively small railway this has significantly reduced the manpower required for track maintenance. Additionally there has been an improvement in the quality of the ride and thus passenger comfort.

Plasser Tamper

Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway’s tamper in the workshop

The stresses and strains that manual tamping makes on the human body are also felt by the machinery that has by and large taken over. Our tamper is currently semi-dismantled while the hydraulic rams that perform the lifting and slewing operations are repaired or replaced.

Tamper Showing Lifting Ram

The vertical lifting ram can be seen between the rail wheel on the left and the taming tines on the right.

Lifting Ram Removed

The lifting rams have been removed.

Slewing Ram

The end of the right hand side slewing ram can be seen. The inboard end is pinned to a lug on the chassis.

Slewing Ram - Fixing Pin Sruck Fast

The pin holding the ram in place was well and truly stuck fast. A hole was cut in the floor to gain better access.

Heating Ram Clevis 1

Copious amounts of heat were applied in attempt to shift the pin.

Heating Ram Clevis 2

The view from underneath.

Filing End Of Locating Pin

Grinding off the end of the pin to remove any burrs.

Ram Now Removed

The right side slewing ram was eventually removed and a similar battle fought and won on the left side.

Drilling Floor For Cover Plate

The floor than had to be repaired. Here it being drilled to fit a removable cover plate.

Tapping Floor To Fix Cover

A brief pause while the holes were being tapped. Note also the access hole in the side member so that the ram locating pin can be punched out in future.

Cover Plate Fitted

Left and right cover plates fitted and the operators seat bolted back into place.

Well that’s all there is for the moment on this story ….

Posted in Heritage, Lineside maintenance, railroad, railway, Uncategorized, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Yard Supervisor’s Tale

Many heritage railways break out their normal routine at least once a year and hold a special event where there is a more extensive timetable for a few days. The Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway is no exception and over 2nd, 3rd and 4th of September there was the annual Steam Gala.

On a normal operating day at the W&LLR up to five people are rostered to crew the locomotive in steam and on a busy summer day that number climbs to seven or eight. These people work with minimal supervision because the tasks follow a predictable pattern. At a gala event the situation is vastly different. There may be well over twenty loco crew rostered along with a number of other people doing mundane tasks such as loading coal, loco cleaning, etc.

Enter the ‘Yard Supervisor’ and his assistant; their job is to make sure everything runs to plan. I fulfilled this role on the Friday assisted by John.

Rolling stock for the first few trains was in position the night before. The first major job for John was to check that all the wagons and carriages had been oiled.

Oiling Wagons

It is our normal practice that once an engine is ready to leave the shed area the crew that prepared it have a break for breakfast and to change into clean overalls. While they are away a relief crew takes charge; their task is to top up the water tanks and coal bunker and then put the loco onto the train. Finding people for this task is usually easy.

At 10 o’clock the first train of the day, Countess and B Set (2 x MAV + 2 x SKLB all green carriages) departed.

Chevallier then fetched the goods stock and departed at 10:30 heading for Castle Caereinion. This loco was supposed to be the star of the show but had been experiencing problems with overheating bearings since it arrive a couple of months previously. Would it make it back OK?

After the first two trains had gone more rolling stock had to be fetched from the carriage shed, at Tanllan, about a quarter of a mile from the station. Rather than relying on the Yard Supervisor working out the movements for himself he is provided with a Shunting Schedule which details when stock is to be brought in or out and where it is stabled. Invariably though a scratch crew for the shunt moves has to be assembled and a locomotive assigned to the task.

Tanllan Sidings

The carriage shed at Tanllan. The loco #17 and the PW gang mess van is on Road 0,  ex Sierra Leone carriages are in Road 2 and the ex Zillertalbahn carriages in Road 4.

With The Earl and the A Set (replica Pickering carriages and two Zillertalbahn 4 wheelers)  off down the line it was time to await the return of Countess and the B Set at 11:58. The Controller informed me that The Earl was running late and could be delayed by up to twenty minutes. Oops! The loco needed to be serviced the crew changed and the train ready to depart at 13:00. Thankfully some time was recovered on the way and the errant train arrived only ten minutes behind schedule.

Meanwhile Chevallier and the goods wagons arrived back.  Much to the relief of the people who worked hard to get the bearings sorted out all was well and only the fireman’s side front coupling rod bearing was running warm and then only when the loco ran backwards for any distance.(The cynics pointed out that at Whipsnade Zoo other than leaving the shed area in the morning the engines go, chimney first, round and round in circles all day)

Chevallier At Cyfronydd

Chevallier and a goods train at Cyfronydd

After the departure of the 1 o’clock train the goods  wagons were shunted out of the way as they would not be required again until Saturday.

There was just enough time to grab a sandwich before it began to get complicated.

The Earl and the A Set arrived back. It was time to lead from the front and John and I lent a hand with the shunting. The two Zillers needed to be removed and replaced by an open wagon and a goods brake van ready for 14:30 mixed train. Meanwhile Chevallier returned from Tanllan with the SLR stock for the 14:00 departure to be hauled by Joan.

Chevallier Returns From Cyfronydd

Chevallier and SLR carriages

Dear reader by now you have probably got the gist of the Yard Supervsior’s job. Rather than continue the move by move account it is probably sufficient to say that we got through the day relatively unscathed. The trains were well loaded and the passengers seemed happy.

Coaling Joan

Coaling up – a labour intensive task

With the stock for the photographic special, topped and tailed by Chattenden and Countess, in the platform we signed off for the day. Time for a shower and then off for a meal at the Red Lion.

Diesel Hauled Departure

The photographic special departs from Llanfair Caereinion hauled by Chattenden with Countess bringing up the rear.

All in all the gala was a successfully event. The heavy rain on Saturday morning probably reduced the numbers attending that day and made working outside unpleasant  – heritage wet weather gear is not the most comfortable attire.

As the station at Llanfair Caereinion is close to the riverbank Mr Toad and his friends were kind enough to pay us a visit in his Stanley steam car.

Poop Poop !!

‘Ho! ho! I am the Toad, the motor-car snatcher, the prison-breaker, the Toad who always escapes! Sit still, and you shall know what driving really is, for you are in the hands of the famous, the skilful, the entirely fearless Toad!’

(from The Wind In The Willows by Kenneth Graeme)

There are more photos of events at the gala at the link below:-




Posted in Heritage, Llanfair Caereinion, railroad, railway, Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway | 3 Comments