Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways

January 31st 2012

Seven days on the permanent way

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The Rest of the World Gang had been allocated a number of jobs for this 7 day working week, mostly centred around Hafod y Llyn, but principally that of re-gapping the left hand rail (as viewed from Caernarfon) from the Caernarfon end loop point at Hafod y Llyn to the Nantmor Road Bridge. The right hand rail had been previously re-gapped by the Black Hand Gang who had also just finished staggering the rails at Gwal y Dwrgi the weekend before. There was just one set of joint sleepers for us to re-align left over from this job.

The first day started at Dinas where a works train was assembled consisting of the old tool wagon and the combination mess coach headed by Castell Caernarfon. Tools were loaded up and the journey to Hafod y Llyn began, Paul Bradshaw driving under the supervision of Pete Gray. It was 11:30 before we arrived at the loop where the loco detached, ran round and departed for Caernarfon. A rail was released about 2/3 of the way up the bank and all the rails had been pulled up a few inches by the end of the day ready for pulling back to correct gap spacing.

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Day 2 saw the re-gapping started although we were distracted by observing one of Mr Parry's cows stuck in the mud in the river unable to extricate itself. Help was soon at hand including a tractor and some blue rope whereupon the beast was dragged on its side up the bank into the field. It must have been weak and cold but shook off attempts to cover it with hay and staggered to its feet to rejoin the circle of its curious fellows. Returning to the job in hand, there are three accommodation crossings in this stretch, all needing lifting to get at the rails. Having completed this first section we set about dealing with the rest up to the bridge, but now (as often happens) the game had changed and we were asked if we could regap both rails above the bridge as far as Nantmor crossing, so continued a bit further.

Day 3. There was a lot of discussion about the best tactic for dealing with the extended task as there are a number of things to consider. Firstly we try to avoid cutting rail because the lead developed by re-gapping is unpredictable and a cut through an existing fishplate hole is to be avoided. Ideally we want a nice clean 5 inches to cut out one hole and create another, or more than 8 inches cut when both holes are lost. Then, if there is too much lead, the sleepers will all be in the wrong place and the work involved escalates considerably. In the end it was decided to re-start the work from the crossing with an initial break on the top of the reinforced embankment. A good move, because the station building makes a very convenient lunch spot.

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Day 4. We had reached a section of gauge widened track on the curve on the embankment which is on South African bolted sleepers and with these bolts just loosened a new technique was trialled using a winch to drag a string of rails. There was some success, but a practical limit of three panels worth was reached. The procedure is a considerable time-saver as the rail clips can remain in situ, greatly shortening the time for working on these sleepers, not to mention wear and tear on knees. Work continued unclipping the remainder.

Day 5 started with the discovery of a Welsh Black cow upside down in a shallow ditch where it had obviously fallen and found itself unable to regain its feet. Another call to Mr Parry and a quicker rescue this time, again with a tractor and strap. The animal was in calf apparently and the farmer very grateful for our report. By the end of the day our extended task was complete.

The last two days saw us finishing off with the remaining small tasks, the sleeper moving, some jacking and packing dips in the track and dealing with some voids under the wooden sleepers by the road bridge and at the Blaenau end loop point. Altogether a satisfying week's work with a promising new technique trialled. We are always seeking new ways to achieve more with less effort. There is after all 25 miles of railway to look after. The Rest of the world Gang works every month split between one four day weekend one month and a working week on odd months. If you fancy lending a hand, why not drop Paul Bradshaw an email on paul.bradshaw@festrail.co.uk ?

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