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Christmas Guard

Discussion in 'Bullhead Memories' started by olly5764, Dec 25, 2018.

  1. olly5764

    olly5764 Member

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    Christmas 2010 was a cold one, we'd had snow before Christmas and icebergs on the river. We'd had snow on the first weekend of Santa operations, which had melted and turned to Rain for the second weekend, but was back with Vengeance for the final weekend.
    On the 18th of December, the snow blew in and was causing all kinds of trouble.
    Snow causes problems that people don't think of (Remember the "Wrong kind of snow" blowing into electrical cabinets on class 91s in the early 90s?)
    On arrival back at Kidder after my first trip to Arely, I recieved a message that my tail lamp had gone out. The snow had come in so thick and fast that the staff had had no chance to clear the platform, but had moved the snow off a two foot wide strip just about the length of the train to give people dry, safe concrete to step onto, leaving me to skate my way to the back to investigate the problem.
    When I reached the back, I saw the problem immediately. I don't know how the platform staff knew the lamp was out, as the Bulls eyes were totally obscured with snow as was the lens, I suspect it was little more than a guess owing to all of the vents being equally choked.
    I put the lamp down on the platform while I searched for my matches, only for it to sink up to the bulls eyes in the snow.
    Sweeping it out, and re-lighting it, I turned the wick up a touch in the hope that a bit more heat would warm the body enough to melt the snow.
    Problems got worse, the signalman at Arely had gone in by train owing to the icy nature of the lane and the fact we had thought the lane may become dangerous had the snow set in as forecast, which was indeed the case, however, this meant that the last train, "The Sweeper" had to Run to Highley to run round, as Arley box needed to be switched out before we came back, so, already 65 minutes late, we set off from Kidder, with the spare engine, 5764 at the head of the train.
    Now, the problem here was that the point work at Highley hadn't moved all day, and the signalman hadn't been expecting a train to come his way until the staff train arrived, so hadn't swung the points to check they worked, so having uncoupled the loco, we found that while the blades moved, they were badly snowed up, and wouldn't close properly. Myself, the driver and fireman ending up digging them out with a firing shovel, the coal pick and the butt end of a fire beater.
    We finally limped into Kidderminster that evening 103 minutes late despite the best efforts of all of us, but at least the kids and their parents seemed happy enough.
    Christmas eve passed fairly event free, we had been forced to cancel 50% of the trains and those that were running were topped and tailed meaning that frozen points should be less of an issue.
    If Christmas eve was easy, Boxing day was the kind of day that sorts the men from the boys.
    The weather had turned somewhat Siberian, the Minimax thermometer on the station wall at Bewdley at the time had registered a low of -20 degrees, the river was frozen right across for the first time since 1982.
    I had booked on to work the 10,25 train, but it soon became apparent that all wasn't well, as it was well past time that I should have had a loco but there was nothing in sight, so with a sense of trepidation, I went to the telephone and rang the box.
    "Yeah, there's been a problem at Bewdley, the loco for the 10.25 has failed so they are hoping to get the second loco up to you," the signalman told me, "Won't be long."
    How wrong he was. The morning dragged on, and still no sign of a loco, so back on the phone.
    "Sorry Guard," came the reply, "Both locos at Bewdley have failed, I don't know when you'll be going anywhere."
    I went back to the train, to tell the TTIs and the crew for the other train (Who had now turned up) what was going on.
    There was one member of off duty staff who had decided to go for a ride on the train, and in order to bag himself prime position at the front drop light. I asked him once to close the window, which he looked astounded, closed it, then as soon as my back was turned opened it again, receiving a long lecture from me about not making the stock any more uncomfortable for our passengers, not that there were any passengers on the train to get uncomfortable, the TTI's were rapidly de-training them back to the warmth of the cafe, while we worked out between us, which crew was going home if one of the trains got caped.
    Eventually, a loco appeared, in the form of 42968, driven by Andy Sweet, and fired by Tom Clarke. I was glad to see an engine, and we soon got our instructions.
    We were to depart as soon as we could, and work as close as we could to the second train's path, then, as he was only booked one round trip, we were to attempt to pick up our own diagram for the second trip.
    Knowing that BR weren't running anyway, news was filtering through as to which other railways had given up and decided to try again later in the week, this seemed to make us more determined that we were going to get a service on.
    We eventually left Kidder 102 minutes late, not believing it could get much worse than that, however, anyone who has tried to work in snow will be aware of it's ability to kick you where it hurts when you are not expecting it.
    It hardly registered that the Bridgnorth train wasn't waiting for us at Bewdley, and we simply speculated that as we were origionally supposed to be the first train, we would cross them as booked at Hampton Loade, almost forgetting we were now running in the second path, and we were actually making a good job of erroding the delay.
    By the time we left Highley, we were working out if we could get back on time at some point during the day.
    Those plans were soon thrown out of the window as we came out of Alveley Woods, and it became apparent that the Up train hadn't arrived and was nowhere in sight.
    "Where is he mate?" I asked the Bobby.
    "You are going to be here a while," the Bobby replied, "The Up has failed in section somewhere, the 08 is going out to drag him back."
    Now, on a normal day, this is not good news, 08's are not racing machines, but there is normally a driver and there's a good chance that it's ready to go if not switched on, but this is boxing day, the only operational staff are normally the ones already in use, so you have to find an 08 driver, prep it, coax it into life, and the crawl out to go and fetch the stricken train.
    By the time the delay reached two hours, thoughts were turning to running us round and sending us back.
    "What ever we do," I said, "We can't call it a day, we've brought people down the line, they will be expecting at least the last train back to run."
    Andy was getting worried about water.
    "We've got enough water to get back if we go now," he said, "But if we wait much longer, I'm going to hae to go light engine to either Bridgnorth or Highley before we go anywhere."
    "Don't worry driver," was the reply, "We will be sending you through to Bridgnorth as soon as we can."
    It seems that "As soon as we can" was 153 minutes late.
    There was more still to come, as we dropped down Eardington bank, and into Knowlesands Tunnel, and we could see Bridgnorth's down home ahead, and it was a red.
    Eventually we passed the signal with a long blast on the whistle indicating that Andy had been talked past it by the signalman and the signal was for some reason, inoperable. The reason soon became apparent, as we approached the inner home, and there was a very cold Chris Thomas holding a green flag. It seems that everything at Bridgnorth was so badly frozen, the only way to operate was to disconect everything, bar and clip the points and flag drivers past the appropriate signals.
    It was obvious too that the failure on 43106 was a show stopper for that loco, so that was it, we were the only train.
    As I walked round to try to get some tea to warm me up, I bumped into Operations Manager, Andy Hitchman who had spent the previous night at his parents in town.
    "Hello Andy," I said.
    "Oh it's you, good," he replied.
    I pre-emptied what was coming.
    "I presume," I said, "That as we have brought people down the valley, that we will be running that 5.15 departure then?"
    I was slightly taken aback by Andy hugging me forcefully and saying "You are wonderful, thank you."
    "That'll be a yes then!"
    "Mind if I join you in the van for the trip back?"
    "Feel free Andy," I replied.
    Timing wise, the departure from Bridgnorth was our lowest point, we were booked to leave at 12.15, a time at which we had barely left Kidderminster, so the good people of Bridgnorth got their first Up departure at 3.03 in the afternoon.
    As we left I had me head out to check us past the signal, then kept a close eye on everything as we went across the point work, before having a look at the river.
    "Good lord!" I commented, looking at the normally choppy water under the bypass bridge, "Even the rapids have frozen!"
    Andy nearly knocked me out of the guards van window to have a look, it was true, the river looked like it had the look of a photograph, not only being frozen right across but the usual standing waves under the bridge frozen in wave form, almost as if someone had simply pressed pause, and Old Sabrina was there, frozen in time, waiting for someone to press "Play" again.
    The second round trip was fair less eventful, with the only point of note being that while we had drastically reduced the delay (We had got it down to 33 minutes at one point) the issues with the point work had meant that the loco was rather longer than normal going over to the shed to take coal, so we left with the 5.15 train, 4 minutes before we were due to arrive in Kidderminster at 6.20 and with the temperatures so low, each station was presenting it's own problems preventing any real chance of significantly reducing that delay, however, when all is said and done, given the way the day had gone, I think we did well to arrive back in Kidderminster at 7.27, just 63 minutes late, the only train that had operated anywhere in the midlands and across significant parts of the south and west too, in fact, with so many others giving up in the morning, you'd have had to go a long way to get your railway fix.
    Chris Thomas, who had been the flagman / points operator at Bridgnorth commented later that the day had warmed up significantly in the afternoon, the temperature briefly climbing as high as minus single figures.
    You have to admire the determination and resistance of people prepared to work in such low temperatures and difficult conditions because as Andy later said, if any of us had said no, then it would have been game over, and taxi's back to Kidder for our passengers, with some of the roads in the local area, not a move I'd have fancied. As it was, we all went home rathe cold, but with a definate sense of triumph in adversity.
    Merry Christmas.
     
  2. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Nat Pres stalwart

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    I really do enjoy reading your stories, thanks for sharing another great one. A book collection one day perhaps?...
     
  3. olly5764

    olly5764 Member

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    When I actually get round to writing it
     
    flying scotsman123 likes this.

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