Life After Bridge 11 (a Civil Engineers Lot!)

From James Barlow  – Chief Civil Engineer

I hope this update finds you well in these ever-changing times. Since the completion of Bridge 11 we have been very busy with maintenance that we fell behind on due to the huge resource requirements of Bridge 11 and the 1st edition of the COVID-19 lockdown. While we have been running less trains, a significant proportion of our assets deteriorate due to the actions of weather rather than running traffic. So the maintenance requirements don’t actually reduce that much, despite being closed. Here is a brief rambling of our work over the last five months of 2020. I hope you find it interesting.

Month by Month

August

The Thursday gang took no rest from Bridge 11 and spent August slowly getting down a number of jobs: fishplate greasing, safety fencing at Bridge 17 and tidying in Oakworth Yard. The Thursday gang have quite the knack for fish plate greasing and seem to become faster and faster with each passing month. They continued this well into November until the cold put an end to this.

Weekend work was much more subdued with inspections and small fencing jobs taking precedent.

September

Having focussed the first half of 2020 on our Civil Engineering work, our Track Engineer, Joe, was absolutely chomping at the bit to get stuck into some P-Way maintenance. September was taken up by several weekends at Keighley working on the West Crossover (the points at the Oxenhope end of the platform). The track here is getting towards the end of its working life. With so many big projects coming up we have undertaken some focussed heavy maintenance in order to prolong its life to give us a bit of breathing space. This including replacing some of the timbers and fastening components such as chairs and screws. Generally, the sleepers beneath points are stronger and have a larger cross section to deal with the higher forces and are therefore differentiated from normal sleepers and referred to as timbers, they are also longer as they pass beneath the whole width of the points. The timbers are quite an effort to replace, fortunately the Thursday gang spearheaded the attack and dug out all the timbers to allow us to change them quickly when it came to the weekend. We undertook the work while trains were running by opening Keighley signalling in order to block the line for large periods.

October

October followed and we started with one of our regularly Network Rail volunteer days which I run for my work colleagues. Work continued to the cutting crest ditch running above Damems Junction. This is the final volunteer day of about five that have been held in this location and completed all the works that can be done by hand.

Later in the winter the large trees blocking the ditch were felled by our tree surgeon and we are planning to remove the root balls with an excavator later in 2021 which should hopefully finish the upgrade of this drainage with just regular maintenance required from then on. As my colleagues provided significant help in the planning and execution of the Bridge 11 renewal the railway decided that the works train to accompany the volunteer day would be run instead with a steam engine (the Ivatt for those interested), big thank you to the crew for making it possible.

November

November brought COVID-19 Lockdown, the 2nd edition. Unlike last time, the railway was kept operational so we could restart services at short notice. Therefore, maintenance needed to continue. Working throughout the month we continued with fish plate greasing while we had the opportunity to block the line.

We then undertook some finishing off jobs at Bridge 11. The large spoil pile that had accumulated due to removing three times the amount of ballast we expected during the job, was receiving complaints from lineside neighbours, justifiably I’d say. This sped up our plan to remove the pile, which was completed on a Friday with the spoil taken to GN straight and tipped from our mermaid. Other finishing off work at Bridge 11 included the ballast boards at the four corners of the bridge and installing some fencing to protect volunteers from the large drop into the River Worth. This just left the parapet fencing to complete the job, more on that later!

Finally, November brought with it the repairs to the walkways at Bridge 27, still damaged from the floods in February 2020. While we had made them safe, there was still a large hole between the yard and main line spans, which we have filled with a Fibre Reinforce Plastic walkway donated to the railway, surplus from a project on the main line network. This deck will hopefully allow flood water to pass through and not cause widespread damage to the walkways as has occurred previously.

December

December was a bit of a quieter month, with lots of small jobs completed from Keighley up to GN straight, including fencing repairs, replacing wooden check keys and regulating ballast. A good weekend to tick lots of little jobs of the list; as satisfying, if not more, than ticking off big jobs.

The other working weekend in December was focussed around Oakworth where work was undertaken to maintain the turnout into the yard after repeated reports of banging as trains pass it. Only certain trains though, with some smoothly transitioning through the turnout. It proved quite the mystery to Joe but we think we’ve got it sorted now. Other jacking and packing was done in the area to make sure the track is in fine fettle for the trains that now pass through non-stop. While all this was going on, another weekend of tidying Oakworth Yard was had including a big scrap drive.

Between Christmas and New Year we retreated to Oxenhope Carriage and Wagon Shed. Here the sleepers over a length had deteriorated to the stage where the track was leaning into their overhead walkway, with some carriages unable to be shunted into the shed due to touching the walkway. A three day extravaganza ensued, with the concrete broken out on day one to allow sleepers to be removed. Day two involved putting new sleepers back into the hole we had created with day three involving the packing of all sleepers to level and testing the clearances. We will now leave the track for 6-12 months to ensure it doesn’t settle, before coming back and re-concreting the floor.

A small contingent worked on Bridge 11, to finally install the handrails on the parapets. A modern key clamp style was installed, with the anchor holes into the bridge having been drilled in early in December. Bringing the final cost of the project to around £155,000, definitely a big win for the department.

A look ahead

I am writing this in early March 2021, so I already know how the year started, not great. But, as with the lockdown in November the railway remains open and we are continuing with maintenance to catch up and keep on top of those essential activities.

March will bring the start of a project to renew the level crossing gates at Oakworth, with the hinges to be replaced first before the main gates are renewed at a later date, hopefully within a few months. Other jobs we have our sights on are the foot crossing at Oxenhope Yard, and drainage improvements between Damems and Oakworth. All this is on top of our normal P-way maintenance activities. Civil Week looks to be a simple affair with heavy track maintenance between Haworth Station and Bridge 27 (where the railway cross Bridgehouse Beck to the south of Haworth Yard). Hopefully a much simpler civil week than with Bridge 11 and good luck to Joe!

I hope you have found this interesting along with the accompanying photos, it is a very brief oversight into what we have been up to over the last 6 months and what we have planned for 2021. I hope in the future to provide more regular updates so I can provide more details of the work we do.

We are always on the lookout for volunteers with any ability. So if you are interested please get in touch, we are a friendly bunch and with hopefully the end in sight for COVID-19 restrictions, we will be able to welcome you with open arms, until then it’ll be welcomed at 2m safe distance.

Until next time.

James Barlow – Chief Civil Engineer