Sunday, 1 November 2009

Tamping In Newcastle

Last night I had a rather enjoyable trip to Newcastle to see VolkerRail NL's Beaver tamper at work. It's a great little machine and travels all over Europe on various jobs too including Sweden and Germany over the last few months. Making Tracks, November 2008 - Click to ViewSpeaking with the crew they do seem to like the opportunities that working on this machine brings!

The machine is enjoying its second stint in Newcastle on the Metro following a very successful first visit in the autumn of last year - it was very well received by the staff and management at Nexus, who couldn't speak highly enough of it during our visit! The speed of operation is very impressive and a huge source of pride for its crew.

It's a product of Plasser & Theurer - you may recall that I visited their 'Open House' event last year. This event was mainly focused upon 'big' machines intended for heavy mainline use and the Beaver is quite a contrast. My own experience of small tampers has been, most recently, within Corus' works with one of our own examples as well as rather tired examples on heritage railways. In these cases the degree of sophistication isn't that high; it's not needed though. Industrial railways are very much created as 'fit for purpose' and the key thing, in Scunthorpe for example, is to allow the safe passage of very heavy loads at low speeds.

VolkerRail NL's beaver is quite different though and is very sophisticated providing all the capabilities of a mainline machine in a small package which gives it distinct advantage on a system like the Tyne and Wear Metro with its smaller loading gauge.

It shows a direction in which a number of companies may be heading now; machines and plant which can operate in various countries. VolkerRail NL already has DR 73946 which, I believe, was the first tamping machine intended to be able to operate on any European standard gauge system. So as time goes on we may see foreign machines coming in and out of the country as and when work demands.

For those of you who don't get a chance to see just how a tamper actually works up close, I think this may be of interest. I have been asked a number of times at model railway exhibitions about this subject as many people are interested but the possibility of seeing it is quite low due to the times of work and the remote location of many work sites! So, here is a very short clip of the tamping banks in action -

The basic idea is that the 'tamping tools' pack the ballast beneath the sleepers as the machine 'lifts' and 'lines' the track by holding the rails. This adjusts the position in vertical (though only upwards) and horizontal direction, either left or right. Wikipedia actually provides a decent introduction to the subject too.

One final view of the Beaver during the works, its small size will be noticed -

It was a very enjoyable and educational visit - one of the many days which makes this industry thoroughly enjoyable from my point of view! I must also thank Phil Kirkland and Sid Lewis of Nexus for making it such an enjoyable visit.


  1. It's a nice thing! Would make a very intriguing model, although I'd probably run out of fusewire- and patience...

  2. I really enjoy your posts about your work! When I get through uni I'd love to work in the rail industry, do you have any jobs going?


  3. Brandon if you really wanted to work for us, have a look at this - might be worth bearing in mind for the future. There's also information about degrees sponsored by the company, Network Rail and others do similar things too. Hope that's of some use.