Saturday, 12 April 2008

Welsh Highland Railway Working Week

Last week I spent an amazing week on the Welsh Highland Railway! It was part of the 'Working Week' on Phase 4 of the re-construction. I was there as part of the GrantRail team of graduate engineers (Network Rail had also sent a team of their apprentices). It was like a paid holiday for me! Thanks must go to Andy Savage for providing this wonderful opportunity.

The week started out very pleasantly - a nice leisurely drive down to Wales, stopping at the Welshpool and Llanfair Railway, which is one of my favourite heritage railways though it seems the 'least Welsh' of all the Welsh narrow gauge lines. Maybe due to its common carrier status? Regardless of this, I still have a real affection for the line. I would love to model the line in 7mm scale!

We were staying in Minffordd at the Ffestiniog Railway's own hostel. A nice little venue, although the facilities are basic, it does have a charm all of its own. I can easily forgive basic facilities when I can see steam hauled trains running past the kitchen window!

This was where we started on the Monday morning -

It's about three quarters of a mile from here to the bridge at Pont Croesor, where the aim was to join by the end of the week. Good progress was made on Monday as we got used to the processes and the equipment we were using. On Tuesday we laid twenty lengths, smashing the previous record of fifteen lengths in a day!

Despite being rather tired after the day's work on Tuesday, I made the trip up towards Corris to see Neil Rushby. He lives in one of the most idyllic locations I have ever scene! I had an absolutely lovely evening.

He is just starting out on a major project based on the Cambrian Coast. Have a look here for more details on this amazing project. This is one of the photos I took whilst I was there -

I can't wait to see it as it progresses! I have threatened to return to see the progress!

One real highlight of Neil's layout must be the rolling stock. The stock is beautifully weathered, as you can see here.

I'm very grateful to Neil and his wife for such wonderful hospitality.

It was back to work (well, if one call this work!) on Wednesday morning. There would be about fifteen lengths required to reach the bridge. We managed this quite easily, after twenty panels down on Tuesday, fifteen didn't seem to phase anybody! By late afternoon we had reached the bridge, just one pair of rails needed to be cut and fitted to make the join. Here you can see the whole working party at the 'Head of Steel' -

Following this achievement, we had a rather good night in Spooner's at Porthmadog station - I think we may have been rather rowdy! Well earned recreation obviosuly!

We were back on Thursday morning, leaving Paul Bradshaw and his team to cut and lay the rail right up to the bridge. The GrantRail gang and two of the regular volunteers headed back towards Croesor Junction with crow bars to align the track before ballasting and tamping. When we returned to the Head of Steel just as the final length before the bridge was being prepared to be laid.

Just after the rails were joined, we witnessed the first train to venture onto the bridge for over seventy years. It was something I was so pleased to have witnessed, even if I did have to run down the road like an idiot to get my camera in time!

Looking back towards Croesor Junction, we could see just how much had been laid - with the gentle curve of the road, we couldn't quite see where we had started on the Monday morning.

On Thursday afternoon we had a ride up to Blaenau Ffestiniog on the Ffestiniog Railway. It was a nice break and welcome break from moving heavy objects!

Progress during the week had been excellent, and well ahead of schedule. Our week would finish off with a ride from Hafod y Llyn to Rhyd Ddu, the latter being current southern Terminus of the WHR. We headed through Beddgelert and the scenery is just beautiful. The ride was made even better by being able to ride on Upnor Castle on the way up to Rhyd Ddu! When the offer was made, Andy Savage said it was the fastest he'd seen me move all week!

Just a taste of what can be seen from the train, though photographs don't seem to capture the magnitude of the surroundings.

I enjoyed the week immensely; though it was nice to be back home in Yorkshire - seeing the Yorkshire Wolds bathed in sunshine as I came home was a wonderful sight. The week was the final week that the GrantRail graduates would be all together, so it was a rather nice way to end our time as a group. For this reason it's a week I'll treasure for many, many years. The feeling of accomplishing something like 'building a railway' was also very satisfying indeed.

The GrantRail gang at Pont Croesor.

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