Weekend Rails

what we do for our kids

Of one Teddy short of a picnic

27th July 2014

So, as we left things last week “Grace” was sat outside at Rowsley and 14901 was ready to head off for a week's holiday in sunny Bury. So first thing Monday it was down to see the swap over. Andrew had the day off, and ran a few errands to Matlock sorting out a replacement fan belt for the winch engine, meanwhile a ramp was assembled, and with all sorted Grace was rolled down and whisked away by Charlie, and I brought 14 901 over and on to the bottom of the ramp. The 14 was loaded and headed north up the A6 with Andrew in pursuit to see it off and through an FTR.

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Meanwhile I had another crisis, having waited weeks and weeks for Allianz to contact regarding the inspection of our Mattersons, the engineer suddenly rang up and proposed Tuesday, which wasn't really as much notice as we wanted. We compromised on Wednesday at 2pm. Consequently on Tuesday night Andrew and I set the Mattersons up, adjusted the posts and pinned in the beams, and tried to operate them. Ah. The post newly refurbished by Mattersons went up when it ought to go down, and vice versa. But even if that had been sorted, we kept having trips and cut-outs on the control panel which didn't happen last time we had it set up. Andrew decided that the problem mostly lay in the up/down switch on the box so pressed me to get the pendant control, box wired up ASAP. Thus first thing Wednesday, after receiving a delivery of wallstone and DPC at Darley, I legged it up to Rowsley and set about wiring the pendant and changeover switch in.

I had completed this and changed the phases on the inverted motor and had my fingers crossed by lunchtime but the problem persisted, so armed with the wiring diagram I started trying to figure it out. The problems appeared to revolve around two of the overload relays, tripping instantly the motors engaged and sometimes not re-making when the load had gone. At this point I had a tap on my shoulder and the Allianz engineer was standing next to me. We went through the various bits of paperwork and discussed the units history, but without the jacks working we could go no further. 45 minutes after he'd gone I had pretty-much bottomed it (bridging out one overload trip temporarily stopped half the trips), but the relays are nominally set at 7amps even though the motors settle at 5-6amps. I think they're just getting sensitive in their old age.

But the real topic for this week is the 3 days spent with 901 at the East Lancs. Now I'll admit to some trepidation about the weekend. There had been an unofficial sweepstake as to which loco would break down first, and given that '901 was due to run turn and turn about with other D9500s, but has an engine which, we strongly suspect, is only able to produce 450bhp, that meant working to the limits to maintain a similar schedule. Not only that, the only approved driver for the main line was yours truly, although Andrew was able to shunt around at Bury or the outer termini, which in theory meant that I could hand over for PNBs.

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I said a week or so ago that I had had hivi specially printed for the occasion. I was unaware that ELR's policy is to “maintain an atmosphere of BR in the 50s and 60s” for which hivi was inappropriate and should not be worn on stations by crews. In fact most of the visiting crews brought their own hivi, and after agonising on Friday I took the view that our livery was neither 50/60s but 70s so hivi was appropriate, so there. (An interesting point though – with loco crews in ex BR shirts, “Team Eric” tee-shirts, or ordinary wear, they tended to blend in with the general public. Thus in my “train driver's costume” with hivi I stood out as an “official” and kept being asked general questions which I was uninformed to answer!)

First thing Friday morning therefore we were heading off in convoy through Glossop and round the M60. Each day's movements had been carefully planned and circulated on what is called a Method of Operation or MofO. Andrew and I carried out the usual preliminary checks, and in good time started up and made ready for our first run to Rawtenstall. For this turn we were coupled to D9523 with the latter leading, and we set off north from Bury in fine style.

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Of course, class 14s are not equipped for multiple working, and with a DV8 which is rigidly mounted and an exhaust pipe that is just the other side of the bulkhead and banging against the box at the top the noise levels are appreciable. In fact, I had had my decibel meter in the cab some months ago and wished I hadn't. Anyway, in consequence it was rather difficult – no, damn near impossible - to hear what the loco in front is doing, and I soon concluded that to obtain any attempt at synchronisation, the only answer was to watch the exhaust of the loco in front, and try to mimic their throttle setting.

Now, lest you are wondering what sort of way is this to run a railway, I was not being let out for the first time (or any subsequent time, come to that) un-chaperoned. On the contrary, I had a conductor/pilot and usually a secondman aboard, but the former varied from the strong, silent types who acted as though you didn't need their guidance or you shouldn't be driving anyway through to those who called unintelligible orders across the cab every 30 seconds. But let me not get ahead of myself, within the first mile I had forsaken learning the route or admiring the scenery (which, for an area so close to Manchester, is surprisingly rural) and concentrated on the colour and volume of smoke coming out of D9523's exhaust, a mere 30 feet or so away.

The first station north of Bury is a single platform called Summerseat, situated on a gradient (the whole of the ELR seems to be uphill away from Bury – there may be a metaphor there somewhere) and half hidden behind a hedge. We were nearing Summerseat on this bright Friday morning when D9523's exhaust suddenly changed and I could hear loud reports even above the noise of 901. The fact that there were now bright, cone shaped flames 12” or more above the exhaust stack as well as a significant increase in black smoke provided a clear indication that all was not well. I had about enough time to think that there was no way I could mimic that exhaust when the ELR pilot climbed out of the cab, opened an engine compartment door and using his leg, pushed the fuel rack shut on the fuel pump. The engine stopped, but all too quickly. We came to a stand.

Two hours in to a 3 day gala and we were stuck mid-section with a failed loco. After a quick confab, we powered the ensemble forward into Summerseat platform, where Vince, one of the loco's owners (and a regular reader) squeezed down and locked the gearbox in neutral. There was nothing for it but for 901 to propel D9523 and draw its train behind the remainder of the way to Ramsbottom, where the first train of the day would be due to cross. There was no plan to go further- we would detrain the passengers, move into the loop immediately on the far side and run round there and pick up our path for a return run to Bury to deposit D9523. So '901 set off from Summerseat, on a not-inconsiderable grade, and propelled the whole lot to Ramsbottom through two tunnels and over one viaduct, etc.

Now strangely enough, the initial coupling of 901 to D9523 had included the order to connect the res lines, which was something I don't think was repeated throughout the weekend, (not all the 14s had them) but did mean that '901 could maintain an air feed and by running one exhauster on D9523's batteries, we proceeded at a sedate pace with D9523 “in charge of braking”. This sedate pace was in part because I found it strangely un-nerving to be powering when I couldn't see a darn thing in front except D9523, and yes, maybe, a little bit of worry lest this herculean effort might reveal some hitherto undiscovered weakness in '901 that would really screw up the timetable, but we slid into the platform at Ramsbottom to see a large contingent of men-with-cameras.

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Talking of cameras, there is one photo which can be found on Flickr, and re-tweeted in various places, which actually shows one of the flames above the top of D9523, taken from Summerseat platform. There are of course, those people who will rave about such a spectacle, but I ask you to reflect on this – the engine ran away because the linkage that connects the external governor to the fuel rack (pumps) “fell off”. The fuel pumps went to full, uncontrolled fuel. The tacho hit 2000rpm but that is as far as the scale goes. An “overspeed protection” system should have come in but didn't, so the actions of the ELR pilotman almost certainly saved the engine from complete destruction. Nonetheless, although it has not seized, there is now no compression and the engine must come out for a repair that will run almost certainly into 5 figures (Paxman's ain't cheap). To Vince and Trevor, Andrew and I offer our sincerest commiserations.

So after running round, we set off back for Bury with '901 leading and D9523 tucked in behind. As I said the gradients are significantly downhill to Bury, so we needed little power once we'd got moving. Of course, back on our booked path we must stop at Summerseat, which in the southbound direction is hidden coyly behind greenery and on a gradient that can catch the unwary and result in overshooting, but I am still cautious, and for the first time able to see where we are going, and anyway the platforms are long enough with 5 on.

The Voith transmission has 3 stages, named, not unsurprisingly, first, second and third. First is a torque converter with a gear train attached, it takes us up to around 14-15mph, when the torque converter is rapidly emptied and the second range engaged, which is another converter but with a separate gear train of different ratio, which takes you to about 30mph. At that speed the second converter is drained, and third gear is engaged, which fills a fluid coupling and thus gives a direct, almost mechanical, engagement which in traction takes you up to the maximum of 40mph. That is the sequence though when in traction. Back in the days when “144-8” was in service at BP Grangemouth, 2nd and 3rd merely had screw plugs blocking the hydraulic lines so the loco could not get out of 1st. As 14 901, and plugs long-since removed, we were well-aware of it changing from first to second, but nowhere had we had sufficient run or gradient/load to be entirely sure of it engaging third. There is no indication of each gear being engaged, and I did, back in 2009, ponder fitting pressure switches to give us a clue as to what was happening when, but more important things took precedence.

So, imagine the scene in the cab of '901. With 200tons behind us, several miles to go, a steady downhill grade and the memory of D9523's engine running away fresh in our minds, the speed gradually climbs, and naturally, I close the throttle. As we are going through one of the tunnels, I become aware that the engine has accelerated, though I know my lever is closed. As the cab is dark I cannot see the tacho so I am not sure that I am not just hearing a reflection from the tunnel walls, so don't panic. Out in the daylight and a quarter mile or so further on, this situation is repeated, except this time Andrew can see the throttle lever is closed, that the engine is up to 1200 or so rpm and he takes action immediately by pressing the buttons on the box that initiate an emergency shutdown.

Actually, it doesn't do just that, the computer stops the engine, drops out the Voith and applies the brakes for good measure. We screech to a stand and I momentarily ponder how many men-with-cameras just landed on top of the guy in front.

Up in the cab sanity returns. What we have just seen has never happened with us before, namely the Voith jumped into third and the fluid coupling results in engine braking. Quite why this has never occurred when leading a heavier train down to Matlock at a not-too-dissimilar speed is a mystery, but with nerves now calmed, we re-start the engine, suck out the vac and proceed on to Bury without further panics, where D9523 is put on the “naughty step” ( the bay platform) and we pick up another loco to head on to Heywood.

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There is much talk about the “ski jump”, or the bridge that takes the Heywood line over the Metro, though from the Bury side the main problem is curve resistance on the tortuous left hander which must be taken slow if only to collect the token. But shortly after there is a relentless climb over the motorway and on almost to the entrance of Heywood station. Our partner loco is now D9521, and having piloted us to Heywood we take the lead and finally make it through to Rawtenstall. With a spirited return run to Bury that was us for the day and we left '901 for the road trip back to Derbyshire.

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Saturday was the day I was most dreading, as the MofO had us off shed at around 9am and expected us there an hour earlier to prep. That meant a 06.30 departure for all 3 of us, as Steph was coming along for the day and we were to be joined by Terry.

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For that matter Saturday was the day just about all our friends an acquaintances had nominated to come along, and our first run of the day had us Rawtenstall bound but solo. Given '901's probable power, this was something that I was not looking forward to, but with the right-away at Bury, I maintained 10mph through the Bolton Street tunnel and out of the station environs, before giving it full power. By now I had begun to recognise some of the landmarks, and although 901 wasn't running as fast as (say) with D9521 the day before, it was nonetheless reaching 22mph on my speedo on a line whose limit is 25mph or 30mph depending on which pilotman you ask. (You may recall that after a recent inspector visit, Peak Rail was told to install line limit signs to avoid any confusion. ELR staff told me that they once had a full set. But that they made such good garden ornaments that they got stolen. Only the 10mph station limit ones remain).

Anyway, having stopped at Summerseat it was a different matter, and '901 worked forward to Ramsbottom almost entirely in first gear – I think it just made second as we approached the station but I probably lost a few minutes on a schedule that had little allowance for non-conformity. Northwards from Ramsbottom though the loco varied between 18 and 22mph to Irwell Vale, which, like Summerseat, is a single platform placed on gradient, Unlike Summerseat though it is on a straight piece of track and doesn't try to to lurk behind greenery. In consequence it is another favourite location for men-with-cameras.

Rawtenstall is a peculiar station in that there is a large brick signal box of fairly modern appearance, but it only has responsibility for an adjacent road crossing and running round comes under the aegis of a ground frame in a ramshackle timber hut. Both of them are apparently linked in to the “train ready to start” button, the box for which is located so far up the platform that it falls to the secondman to press after some form of telepathy from the guard 3 or 4 carriages away. I am quite content to bring the train down to Bury, and relieved to reach Ramsbottom to find the other platform empty and to wait some time for the northbound train we are crossing to arrive.

According to the MofO, we were to work solo to Heywood, and pick up D9521 again on our return to Bury, but I was surprised on arriving in Bolton Street to find D9521 being added then. On enquiry I was rather brusquely told that I was “too slow” and thereafter I'm afraid I began to find the day tedious and not-so-enjoyable as I had up to then. But on the other hand, I gained another passenger in my cab who did not moan about my speed/power/braking, distract me with questions or block my view. Class 14s are of course known as Teddy Bears, and a few of those had congregated at Ramsbottom to celebrate their namesakes.

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We had brought our bear, a first anniversary present from me to Steph, and who over the years, has joined us in many railway visits. Here he is, with Steph looking on.


I regaled myself somewhat with giving him the opportunity to look around at station stops, wave at small children, and to my amusement, he had his portrait taken by men-with-cameras – hec he was even asked to pose! As we were on the section between Irwell Vale and Rawtenstall, we found the p/way gang out in force and an additional 10mph TSR imposed. I wondered what had precipitated such action – an emergency repair perhaps? Sources suggested however, that the p/way crew don't want to miss out on the spectacle of special events, so spring some maintenance somewhere along the line.

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On our second arrival at Rawtenstall, '901 was detached and transferred to the bay platform, possibly to give me a PNB/lunch break, although with the timetable not quite being adhered to this was not as long as originally planned. In due course the next train arrived and I moved back on to the front after they had run round, to form a triple-header south. Even this was not without incident – every new person in the cab is politely warned to keep their hips/bums away from the two buttons which are the engine start and stop. And every now and again somebody doesn't notice or forgets. As we trundled over the pointwork heading for the platform, our new pilot did it again (and, like most others, proceeds to claim that they should be shrouded, but as an emergency stop control we prefer them to be accessible!) so the loco stopped and had to be re-started. Whether this put it in a bad mood, I don't know, but somewhere between Rawtenstall and Ramsbottom I noticed that the reverse gear indicator light was “out”.

To the best of my knowledge, this has never happened in the last 5 years and my first thought was that maybe the LED had shaken loose. A quick enquiry over the other side of the cab revealed that theirs was off too, so there was nothing for it but to get to Bury, (where we were due a 2 hour lay-over until the evening shindig) and investigate there, so I thought.

At Ramsbottom I did my usual and dropped the Voith out while we waited for the northbound train to arrive. And when I came to set off, the computer locked me out. After a few seconds of terror, I reversed the box and on came the forward light, and reversing again brought the reverse light back on, so it was nothing more than the sensor going out of adjustment. I got the Voith in, set off, and a mile or so later the light went out.

One thing that had not occurred to me was that under my wiring/software, the reverse sensor was positive confirmation that reverse was indeed engaged and that the default was forwards. Thus with the sensor not registering my lead lights switched from head/marker to tail without bothering to tell me, although plenty of people did as we arrived at Bury. The loco transferred to the bay platform, and Andrew went for some adjustables (thanks to the secondman who went with him to get through the various gates between the station and the van) and reset the sensor.

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I think after the way the day had gone, with heat, noise, an early start and some friction, I may be forgiven for rather losing interest at this point. Although the highlight of the day was to be the evening cavalcade (or Bear-ex), I had really had enough. Nevertheless in due course '901 together with D9513 moved across to Barron Street sidings, and after what seemed an interminably long wait I found myself as one man-with-camera put it “7 of 9” (and he couldn't even reference the right Star Trek series) as D9523 was left behind in the bay platform. So it wasn't quite 10 and 10, but 9 locos and ten full carriages that blasted northwards with (most) horns blaring. There'd even been a scare that applying power unevenly might cause coupling issues, so not only was I mimicking the throttle settings but each loco was applying power in turn with the pilotman telling me when! There are loads of stills and a few videos on Flickr and you-tube, so you can see what it was like – we rolled in to Ramsbottom, the front 5 came off and went forward into the loop, and the remaining 4 took the train to Rawtenstall, after which the five came up to form a top-n-tail set up to Heywood and back. At least my reverse direction sensor light stayed firmly on throughout. I left Andrew to dispose of the loco, but even so it was 22.15 before we were leaving and a quarter to midnight when we reached home.

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At 05.30 this morning I was getting up to do some of it again, but Andrew too was feeling the strain and it was a quarter to seven before we got on the road and nearly 08.15 arriving at Barron Street, with a booked off-shed (to the MofO) of 08.45. We were joined with D9521 again, and we drew the stock in platform 4, where they wanted to top the loco's coolant up before running round to go first to Heywood. Thus we were a few minutes late and made a surprise stop just before entering Heywood station. As this was the first train there my secondman assumed that there was an obstruction of some sort dropped no doubt from the adjacent bridge. But the real reason was more entertaining – they had had the token on the desk and got it wedged under the brake valve handle!

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'901 lead the train back to Bury and on up to Rawtenstall. Today's pilotman was conscientious about speed limits which suited me fine.

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The final run was back through Bury to Heywood with D9521 in front, and the final leg was with '901 leading back to Bury, where we got held for 10 minutes at the outer home, as something was blocking us that the MofO hadn't accounted for. At least they couldn't accuse '901 of being too slow again. We passed our train over to another pair of 14s, waited for a few minutes at Castlecroft yard, D9521 left us for a final run, and Andrew took '901 through the station, horns blaring to mark our goodbyes, and down to the far side of Barron Street sidings where the loading area is, ready for collection in the morning.

To the various pilot and secondmen of the ELR, some of which I know are readers, my thanks and apologies if my temper was not always steady. To the various friends, acquaintances who came over to say hello to me and Andrew, sorry if we did not get to talk as long as we'd have liked. As you'll have guessed, most of this week's pictures have been taken by me, Andrew or Steph, but as cameras were being passed around I am not entirely sure who took what!

The weekend has proved how popular the 14s are, and in '901's case, may have won it a few admirers. It has proven to me how rugged 14 901 really is, even if my software needs revisiting to make a few refinements. Next weekend is Warring 40s at Peak Rail and maybe, somewhere in between we might get it a bit of work done on that pesky shed.....

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