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 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.
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.
The vertical lifting ram can be seen between the rail wheel on the left and the taming tines on the right.
The lifting rams have been removed.
The end of the right hand side slewing ram can be seen. The inboard end is pinned to a lug on the chassis.
The pin holding the ram in place was well and truly stuck fast. A hole was cut in the floor to gain better access.
Copious amounts of heat were applied in attempt to shift the pin.
The view from underneath.
Grinding off the end of the pin to remove any burrs.
The right side slewing ram was eventually removed and a similar battle fought and won on the left side.
The floor than had to be repaired. Here it being drilled to fit a removable cover plate.
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.
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 ….