It has been a very unusual week here at the Briddon Country Pile. The awaited vacuum cleaner which was supposed to be here either the previous Friday or Monday, and which on the couriers tracking system was either 'in transit at Oldbury' or 'not yet collected' (depending which part of the system you clicked on) finally arrived – I put it in the back of the van, but it wasn't until the next day that I unloaded it, unpacked it and vac'd a small section of the floor on the footpath side of the shed. With 2000W of suck it was certainly effective, and the ability, thanks to having the usual accessories, to operate it from a near upright position certainly beat crawling around on the floor with the small vacuum cleaner, but I got the feeling that within a few minutes its enthusiasm tailed off a bit. I had somewhere to go so left it for further investigation. Anyway, let me introduce you to it, somewhat dishevelled from its later encounters, and no Dalek jokes please. Nor R2D2 either.
On Thursday it was up to Tunstead once again for work on RS8. The guys had managed to remove the broken injector stud and replaced the last two injectors, so together with Liam we refitted the spill return pipes, put the whole assembly back on the ground, filled the sump and topped up the coolant (I had forgotten that it was still largely full of anti-freezed coolant so that didn't take long). But this was about as far as I could go, and we discussed the batteries required, and where the test run would take place in the workshop (given that a cold Rolls with no silencer is not only a loud beast but a smokey one). The new crankpin has not been completed as suitable material had had to be bought, and the Tarmac wagon had been fully booked, so the wheelsets and gearbox were still at Darley Dale, but a collection date was agreed. Liam and I looked over the axleboxes which had been through their spray washer last week. Liam will follow up on getting the boxes properly painted and hopefully repairing the top of one box with some Belzona or the like. This is not essential – the location for the spring pillar pin would still function – but would be better cosmetically. I finished early with a list of bits required for next week, when, hopefully, we'll at last get this thing to 'go'.
Meantime, they tell me that there's a brand new loco shed being built in the quarry, and the crane(s) to go in it are being stored in the old workshops where RS8 is to be reassembled, so the delay isn't causing any issues. For that matter another of the quarry engineers who actually worked on the loco in 1959-60 has been in touch with Reg and is keen to get on site and see progress.
Andrew was down at the shed on Friday night manufacturing a new piece for the handbrake linkage on the low-load trailer, as the original had seized solid and had to be cut out and used as a pattern. Given that the new one was fabricated without recourse to profiles, and materials entirely in stock, I was impressed with the finished result, and on Saturday he and Phil G headed back over to carry on with the work.
But that is getting a little ahead of ourselves, for first thing Saturday we scampered up to Sheffield to view, and put a deposit on, a replacement van. The time we bought our current van, we viewed half-a-dozen, and bought from a private dealer after much heart-searching and test driving. This time we went to a Peugeot dealer, looked the van over, decided there wasn't time to test drive it (besides, I felt quite at home in the driver's seat) and went back in to talk money. Our present van had 144,000 miles on it when bought it and now has around 293,000 so is well run-in Its replacement (he says crossing fingers lest anything goes wrong) has only 15,000 or so on so should feel like new. It'll be nice to have working internal lights and such.
We were back at the shed by a little after ten, Andrew and Phil loading up to head out again, leaving me with Stephen, Will, Plumtree and Charles of the IDRPG to carry on with work in and around the shed. Plumtree and Charles had set themselves the target of re-organising the IDRPG container ready for an influx of parts for their next project, whereas I had Stephen and Will to help clear large lumps from some sixty square metres of floor on the footpath side of the shed, then vac it all with the new cleaner. And yes, I was right, the filter on the new cleaner does clog up with cement dust quite quickly, and requires a regular break to open up and knock as much as possible off the filter assembly into the bottom. I think I'll have a natter with the supplier and get a couple of spare filters. The instructions say they can be washed in soapy water, so maybe having one or more ready to exchange would aid productivity when new tackle the next part.
Then out came the cold tea, aka the floor sealant, and by the end of the day all 60 square metres had been sealed and ready for paint. Andrew and Phil returned, having completed all the work they require for the trailer's MoT. (These MoT's work a little differently to your car ones. If an operator takes in a HGV that actually fails MoT he doesn't just drive it home and fix it, it gets impounded where it is and a black mark is recorded on his Operators Licence. As a private individual, Andrew apparently does not need an Operators Licence – though a Restrictive one might save arguments later – but he doesn't want it stuck on the testers premises so is planning to send someone in for a pre-check before it goes for the real thing in 10 days time.
Remember Murder on the Orient Express? Well it's in cinemas now, and sad to say my invite to the premiere got lost in the post. Worse still my daughter, who saw it Saturday night, sat through the credits and yes, my name doesn't appear on it. So future John Huntleys will never know that Charlie and 03 901 did all the pushing and pulling and I was trying my bestest to create the movement the Director wanted. Ah well, that's show business I suppose.
We didn't get down until lunchtime today and even then it was to drop me off so that Andrew could pop back up to Rowsley to go look at some pipework the class 50 boys would like him to put together. That left me to make a start on applying the first coat of red to the floor we sealed yesterday. Opening the tin I found it was well and truly settled out, and previously we have used a big stick to stir it all together again. But, remembering the slogan that Liam at Tunstead had told me on Thursday – Work smarter not harder – I thought I could do an easier job if I used the paint stirring device on a drill. Just one snag, it was caked up with intumescent stuff that gave it the impression of a piece of plaster artwork. I took a hammer and chisel to it and eventually found the metal underneath.
With the paint duly stirred and a fresh roller in the handle, I had got just over half way before Andrew got back and we finished it together. It will now be left until Tuesday or Wednesday before a second coat is applied and then not touched until next weekend to set properly.
Andrew continued taking stock of rails and planning which bits will go where on the kit that will make up the ramp that will go with the trailer on movements. I started putting together some of the bits required for Tunstead on Thursday, and then went back to routing a cable that will feed the external socket for the IDRPG container. When I had been outside the shed on Saturday night, I had seen a chink of light down by the door that I had not noticed before. I knew that there was a small gap between our external stonework and the door column, but hadn't realised that it was sufficiently open behind to allow light to show, or for that matter, vermin to enter. The solution to an earlier problem of how to get the cable outside the building was now obvious so I brought a cable through the hole, roughly around to the switch unit inside and then blanked off the rest of the aperture with some sealing foam.
That got me in the mood to put some more insulation in the wall spaces so some of that glass fibre I bought from up New Mills a couple of weeks ago was dragged out of the Portakabin, hacked to sizes and laid over various parts where I thought it could do with building up a bit. Andrew came in from the cold and dark and we discussed which work bench is going where once the floor paint has set, which gives me a better idea of where striplights will be required. At the moment we have two LED ones but these are merely plugged in to adjacent outlets: the plan has always been that they will have their own feeders and switches mounted to the bracketry, one of the last cable runs still to be put in. The target is to have all the floor painted by Christmas, so this, with all the other distractions (actually I typed dustractions first and that's probably concise) will continue to take up a lot of our time over the next couple of months.
I said at the beginning it has been an unusual week here. For one thing I spent most of Monday on the phone as shareholder after shareholder rang in to get further details and explanations of the situation I had explained about Peak Rail. What wasn't coming in on the phone was arriving by e-mail or, as the week wore on, by snailmail. I won't repeat all the comments I received but the general sentiment has been one of 'good for you, this should have been done years ago'. I have heard more stories of the conduct of the Peak Rail MD where those actions have been at least unethical. I have spoken to shareholders as old as 87, 92 and 93, all equally appalled at the situation the company got itself into and how, they felt, it has been hidden from them.
Not everyone is prepared to take my word for it. Two at least have told me they are writing to the Company for an official comment. One has told me that I am wasting my time, merely 'rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic', and he is cancelling his standing order for more shares. But once again I have been coming across examples of where the office administration has fallen down. I have replied to two widows now who asked me to take them off my list as their husbands, who owned the shares, have died, and Peak Rail haven't responded to their notifications. I have another in front of me now – a spidery hand which reads 'my husband passed away last year; I have told Peak Rail at Matlock once or twice but they do not seem to delete him from their membership list' (she means shareholder list, I'm sure she may be excused the error). These anomalies are turning up too frequently to be anything other than poor administration.
It's akin to the saga of the SMS - or Safety Management System if you don't know the acronym – which in a sense is like a Rule Book but is wider in scope. A legal requirement under ROGS (The Railways and Other Guided Transportation Systems (Safety) Regulations of 2006), it should cover all aspects of the railway operation and be backed up with Risk Assessments of each action the line involves.
Our written Agreement with Peak Rail has a clause granting us a right to operate between Rowsley and Darley Dale when, in so many words, the railway is not running – naturally we would not want to obstruct the operation of passenger trains on a whim. But the first time we attempted to exercise that right – and co-incidentally about the same time that Peak Rail decided we were in breach of contract as regards not holding 14901 on standby for Santas – it was suddenly imposed on us that 5 days notice of any movement was required because full-time members of staff were required to operate the level crossing gates at Darley Dale and Church Lane 'it says so in the SMS'.
Now I don't know about you, but it seems a trifle inconsistent to me that volunteer blockmen can operate those same gates ten times a day for trains with passengers on, but when I want to make a single loco move it suddenly becomes a matter for a full-time member of staff. I have operated those gates several times in the past – you've even seen pictures of the moves concerned in earlier editions of this blog – and surely it would make more sense that the person be passed out as competent.
Naturally, this depends on the wording of the instruction in the SMS, so we asked for a copy. The request was ignored. As was the next and the next. And not just us. Another volunteer on the railway received a rebuke from the Matlock office over a report he filed, with the rejoinder that his paperwork didn't comply with the SMS. He requested a copy and got ignored too (to the best of my knowledge, he still hasn't seen it.).
Now consider the words of the Improvement Notice served on the East Lancs Railway on 23rd August 2010
'that the Safety management System currently in place has not been briefed out to all paid staff and working member volunteers nor have steps been taken to ensure their understanding of those parts of the Safety Management System that relate to their duties'
I had never had any briefing of the SMS or any part of it, even during 54 days on the footplate in 2014.
So anyway, between us and our solicitor Peak Rail saw fit to ignore 8, yes, you got it, eight, written requests for a copy of the SMS over the next 18 months or so. So we decided to involve the HMRI, and the same inspector who issued that notice on the ELR told us to put a fresh request in, give the PR Director 14 days to respond and if she did not, he would order her to. We did, she didn't, and a couple of weeks later, as I stood waiting at Rowsley for a loco to arrive, she walked up behind me, said 'Mr Briddon, this is for you' and thrust into my hand an envelope which I found contained a memory stick.
And that you might think was the end of it. But no, a day or so later we received a letter from Peak Rail's solicitors. In case you think this is all too incredible, see for yourself -
Yes, PR considers the SMS to be confidential and if we revealed it to any third party, PR would sue. Actually, I think this letter was supposed to arrive the same day as the memory stick was handed over, but the solicitors failed to catch the right post!
Now how can a railway operation be said to comply with an SMS if its management considers it confidential? The ELR improvement notice goes on to require a 'series of formal presentations … as to the contents of the SMS in general and its inter-relation with supporting documents/ procedures/ instructions etc.' In order that we, Andrew and I, could fulfill our obligations under H&SE legislation we must provide the railway's SMS to our consultant, yet to do so, it would seem, would leave us open to litigation.
We took this matter up with PR's solicitors, who did not respond (sounds familiar). Eventually I got to speak to the solicitor himself who told me that 'things had moved on'. I asked what things. He didn't seem to know.
To cut a long story short, we eventually opened the files on the memory stick and passed them to our consultant, who was singularly unimpressed with the content. Was the document complete? No, parts have been 'under development' since 2011. Were the supporting Risk Assessments there? No. Did it say that full-time members of staff were required to operate level crossing gates, as PR management had asserted? We couldn't find it, but it has since been sneaked into a hastily-written Risk Assessment that was only dated May 2017 and has yet to be agreed with us.
See you next week?