Sunday, 2 July 2017

Sometimes, out of left field, comes something you never expected.

It was a very special day for me at Urmston today. I'm expecting the lovely Jubilee next month, but another even more interesting machine has 'popped up' in the interim; 'Wildfowler', a 2.5 inch to the foot 5" gauge model of an 0-6-0 Fowler 2 foot gauge tank engine very much in the idiom of the Beyer Peacock engines belonging to Jim and Dave that I have been driving at the club.

On Tuesday I visited Steam Workshop in Heckmondwike to view the loco and I was smitten! Simon, boss at the company, suggested he bring it to Urmston today so we could run it in real conditions, carrying fare paying passengers. It performed fabulously, Dave, Jim , Billy and other experienced Urmston drivers all had a go and loved it, as did Malc and me. Just a few minor 'running in' things to fix, which Simon is sorting.

'Wildfowler' is quite softly sprung which makes for great haulage capacity as the wheels will follow vertical track irregularities and therefore give maximum grip and less tendency to slip under load. But it does mean she 'dances' a bit under way!  A real 'Wild Fowler'; the builder, Walter (see below) knew what he was at when he named her!

When I visited Steam Workshop on Tuesday we were convinced this was a model of an actual loco, not just a 'free lance Fowler'. The 'Fowler' detail in the motion and cab and tank shapes were too specific for that. But we didn't know which loco.
On Wednesday I was at Manchester Locomotive Society (MLS), of which I am a member. I'd noted the works number on the builder's plate on the loco and looked it up in the MLS library copy of Fowler locomotive build list. There it was! No.16991 built October 1928 for Nockton Estates Light Railway, a Potato farm in the Lincolnshire fens, owned by Smiths Crisps.
She worked there until 1930 but proved too heavy for the light ex-WW1 two foot gauge track, so was sold on to a contractor and spent her final years working on reservoir construction in Weardale in the North East. On completion of that project she was put put up for sale, but there being no takers (she was well knackered by then) she was cut up on site in 1938.
Here's the amazing thing - I also discovered that this model had been built by a Walter Fidler of Burton on Trent in 1964. I passed this information on to Simon and a penny dropped; his grandfather had been a friend of Walter. Walter died in 1965 before completing the model, but having done all the 'engineering'. We think Simon's grandfather might have finished it, doing the 'bodywork' (tanks, cab, boiler cladding etc.)
None of this was known when 'Wildfowler' first arrived at Steam Workshop about a year ago in rather tired condition. It found a buyer who paid a deposit and Steam Workshop started work on it, but he had financial problems and dropped out. It was re-advertised and that's when I got involved. Steam Workshop have re-tubed the boiler, replaced the front tube plate, and repainted the engine in a lovely lined-out 'Fowler orangy-brown', inspired by preserved Fowler 'Saccharine' at Statfold Barn Railway.
Simon found Walter's obituary in a 1965 copy of 'Model Engineer' magazine. It states that 'Wildfowler' (named by Walter, 16991 never having carried a name) was Walter's (a noted model engineer) masterpiece. The piece carries pictures of the locomotive under construction.
It is a very beautiful thing of superb quality. I feel privileged to be its next owner.

Here's a link to Steam Workshop's site: CLICK HERE

Here are some pictures. Click on any for a larger image.

'Wildfowler' as she arrived at Steam Workshop

 First peek of 'Wildfowler' in Simon's car as it arrived this morning

 'Wildfowler' on its way to the steaming bays

 Lovely loco! Facing the wrong way for running at Urmston, though. It's a heavy two-man lift, but Simon and one of his guys lifted it, turned it, and put it back on the track.

 It's chunky! It's massive! 'Wildfowler; dwarfs my 'Alfred' on a steaming bay

Steam Workshop's picture of the finished loco

Here's a video of the first fire, and then running at Urmston: 'Wildfowler' video


Monday, 26 June 2017

A visit to the new Air Traffic Control Tower at Manchester Airport

When the new terminal at Manchester Airport was opened in 1962, it included a control tower atop the terminal building. Latterly it has been realised that that that was not an ideal arrangement; not only is the westerly threshold of the new runway, 05R, not visible from the old tower, there was a further problem.

If there was a fire, or in today's less settled society, a terrorist threat or actual attack on Terminal One (as that original terminal became), the Tower would have to be abandoned which would bring the Airport to a halt. The Airport's business continuity insurers would no longer accept that as an affordable risk, so a new, stand-alone Tower, was required.

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

The 1962 Tower at Manchester, atop Terminal One. A BEA Vanguard on the apron.

A couple of years ago the new Tower was built at a cost of £20M, and this afternoon I enjoyed an Interesting tour around the facility. I had visited the old tower many times but this was my first visit to the new one.
The visit was organised through my involvement with the Airport as an occasional but long standing guide on Concorde G-BOAC and ex-RAF Nimrod XV231.

The new control tower from the car park in front of the fire station.

General view to the south east from the VCR (visual Control Room) atop the tower.

In the old tower, displays were built into control desks. In the new environment, all displays are free-standing flat screens, easily swapped out in the event of a fault.

In order to reduce glare from the sun shining through the large glass panels, transparent blinds are drawn which doesn't aid photography! You can see the brighter vertical stripes between the edges of each blind, and the window frames.

An aircrat waiting to cross 23R, headed for 23L for take off. It is in contact with the 23R controller, who controls that runway and any crossing traffic. Once it has crossed, it will be handed over to the 23L controller. 

An aircraft vacating runway 23R (the landing runway today, 23L, visible beyond the aeroplane, just this side of the trees, being used for take offs). 

Note the old road in the foreground. This is the original Altrincham - Wilmslow road, in use before the runway tunnels were built. As a lad I used to ride my bicycle along it going from my home in Sale to visit a friend in Alderley Edge. And some years ago I taxyed our Chipmunk aeroplane along it having landed on runway 24 (as 23R was back then) and parking on the grass in front of the viewing park (whose boundary fence can be seen on the right of the picture).

Manchester city centre, beyond the buildings of Terminal Two.

View over the Runway Visitor Park to the 05 thresholds. Note the open blind on the right hand window.

Jodrell Bank radio telescope on the southern horizon.

Terminal One and the old 1962 tower.

The Concorde hangar in the foreground, runway 05L threshold behind it, and 05R threshold beyond the band of trees, right down in Mobberley.

Looking towards the Fairey Hangars, and beyond, the new warehouse park on the far side of the Wilmslow road

The GPO tower on Crocker Hill between Macclesfield and Congleton on the horizon, the hill of Alderley Edge in the foreground, with the new 'Waters' building prominent just across the Bollin Valley from the airfield.

We ascended to the VCR 6 floors by lift. This is the alternative - the fire escape stairs within the 'tube' of the tower. It's a long way down!

The radar room, on the ground floor

On the ground floor is the radar room, housing Approach Control, who 'pick up' inbound aircraft at about 40 miles out and vector them onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System) for the duty runway, whereupon they are handed over to the Tower controller up in the VCR.

The chap on the right is 'Manchester Approach' (118.525 MHz), the chap on the left is 'Manchester Director' (121.35MHz) who is on duty at busy times as an 'interim' between 'Approach' and 'Tower' to sequence the arrivals onto final for 'Tower'.

The chap in the middle is about to take over 'Approach' so is 'getting the picture'.

When it's very busy, a 'Northern Approach' controller is added to these two, 'Approach' then handling only the southern arrivals.

A close up of a radar display. 

The radar head is on the airfield, but can be supplemented by remote radars piped in from locations such as Clee Hill in Shropshire. The radar data is digitised and fed into a computer, which attaches relevant data to the 'returns' shown on the display.

The display shows the runway 23R centreline, the airport on the centre, and the 23L departure centreline. A Loganair departure is just turning right off 23L, and there are 4 aircraft on final for 23R.

Manchester has replaced the old paper 'flight progress strips' by this electronic version.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

Mug exchange at Consall today

Dave Gibson captured the 'mug exchange' today at Consall, where I was duty signaller.

Peaky leaning out of the TKH with the staff (in its leather pouch) in one hand and the CVR mug I'd given Jon Jon a fiver to get for me from the Froghall shop in the other. My left hand went through the loop of the staff pouch as the TKH approached, then onto the mug, while my right hand grabbed the mug from underneath.

Pouch loop ran up me arm, mug safely delivered! Ta loco crew for that!

Cleaned up nicely once I'd removed Peaky's oily coal dust finger marks off it. Just like these two.


Friday, 16 June 2017

A bit of narrow gauging in North Wales

I love the narrow gauge railways of North Wales. I have travelled the Ffestiniog Railway countless times over the decades, and experienced the much more recently re-opened Welsh Highland Railway on a few one-way trips (twice northbound, and once southbound), but had never done a return trip.

I felt the need to spend a couple of days in Porthmadog, where Harbour Station is the common terminus for one end of both railways. Each is two foot gauge, each is steam hauled, but they have very different characters.

The Ffestiniog is a one-time gravity worked slate railway (later converted to steam), bringing the product down from the Blaenau Ffestiniog quarries to the sea at Porthmadog for shipping to UK and world markets.

The Welsh Highland was a short lived conglomeration of narrow gauge lines between Porthmadog and Dinas, on the north coast of Wales. It failed in the early years of the last century, but was, amazingly, re-incarnated by the Ffestiniog Railway several years ago, extended at both ends beyond its original limits, and now runs from the same Harbour Station as the Ffestiniog Railway, to Caernarfon on the North Wales coast.

I booked a hotel in Porthmadog for two nights commencing Monday 12th June, and bought a train ticket Wilmslow to Porthmadog return (£29 for one of the most scenic rail journeys in UK; far cheaper than the petrol I'd use if I drove; and so much more enjoyable! Who says UK has high rail fares?).

Please click on any picture for a larger image.

Approaching Fairbourne on the Cambrian Coast line in an Arriva Wales train from Shrewsbury to Pwllheli, which I will ride as far as Porthmadog

Barmouth, a little further up the Cambrian Coast line

That afternoon I was seated in the train about to ascend the Ffestiniog Railway line to Blaenau Ffestiniog, and back. Our locomotive, Double Fairlie 'David Lloyd George', having coaled and watered, here makes its way past my carriage window to the head of the train.  

The locomotive was built in 1992 at the railway's Boston Lodge works, and is the most recent Double Fairlie locomotive in the world and also the most powerful locomotive on the railway. It was originally built to burn oil rather than coal. It was returned to service in May 2014 following overhaul, fitting of new power bogies, and conversion to coal firing.

Very welcome on a warm afternoon; Welsh Farmhouse Cider served by on board stewards at table. Note the map of both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland railways etched into the table top.

As the train climbs from the coast up the continuous grade towards its upper terminus, the views over the Vale of Ffestiniog open out

The railway is built on a constant gradient falling towards the coast, as it was originally gravity-worked; trains of slate wagons ran down to the sea by gravity alone, under the control of a brakesman. The horse that would haul the empty wagons back up to the slate quarry rode in a horse wagon on the back of the train. A result is that line zig-zags its way down the valley side to maintain the constant gradient, so I was able to photograph our locomotive (above) from my seat on the train.

In the 1950s, before the railway was restored, a hydro electric power station was built near Tanygrisiau. Its reservoir flooded the original track bed and in the 1960s and early '70s the railway built a 'deviation' around the flooded section incorporating a spiral to gain height, and a new tunnel to replace the flooded one. The original track bed can be seen (above) entering the northern end of the reservoir.

The power station reservoir seen from its dam. The power station itself can be seen on the right shore of the reservoir, our train have just passed behind it to reach this point.

At the Blaenau Ffestiniog terminus, 'David Lloyd George' runs around its train for the journey back down to Porthmadog

Before coupling onto the train, the locomotive takes on water to replenish its tanks. The fireman has to clamber up to wrap the 'bag;' (canvas water pipe) around the water crane after use, presumably to keep it out of the reach of vandals. 

On the Double Fairlie, the driver stands on the right, the fireman on the left, with the one-piece boiler passing between them through the cab. The loco has two fireboxes, both on the fireman's side, and two injectors, one on each side. It also has two regulators, one for each power bogie.

The Ffestiniog abounds in lovely detail, like these highly varnished benches on the station platforms. They must have quite a number of dedicated volunteers.

Back at Porthmadog, 'David Lloyd George' is uncoupled from the train to run forward to the coaling and watering point. When the incoming Welsh Highland Railway train arrived at Porthmadog from Caernarfon, its Garratt locomotive was coupled to the Double Fairlie, and pair set off across the Cob to Boston Lodge for disposal. 

Here is a video of that Welsh Highland train from Caernarfon arriving in Porthmadog, and crossing the Britannia road bridge into Harbour Station:

Next morning (Tuesday 13th) I was back at Harbour station for a trip on the Welsh Highland Railway to its Caernarfon terminus and back. Before my train's stock was shunted into the station I watched the departure of the first Ffestiniog train to Blaenau. Here, Double Fairlie 'Iarll Merionnydd' moves up from the coaling bay to position onto its train. 

'Iarll Merionnydd'  or 'Earl of Merioneth' was built in 1979, the first Double Fairlie built by the restored Ffestiniog Railway, and the only one of its kind to deviate from the classic design with the cuboid side tanks. 

Its days are numbered as it is soon to be withdrawn. Its bogies will be removed for use on New-build double Fairlie "James Spooner".

The Fairlie's cab; the reversing lever is prominent in the foreground (on the driver's side of the cab), while the two regulators (one for each power bogie) can be seen atop the boiler. The boiler pressure gauge is on the forward cab wall, and the driver's boiler water gauge glass can just be seen to the right of the cab, obvious by its black and white striping which makes the water level much easier to see (the diagonal stripes are refracted to horizontal by the presence of water in the glass - or not!).

The Garratts on the Welsh Highland are repatriated ex-South African Railways, most being built in Gorton, east Manchester. Here is our Garratt for the day, no. 87. This one was built by Belgian company Société Anonyme John Cockerill

The signalman chats to the Fairlie's driver just before departure

The Ffestiniog train having departed, our Garratt brings the Welsh Highland stock out of the siding to position it in the platform

Being outside the school holiday season, the trains were not too full. Here is the interior of our Welsh Highland coach.

Our turn to cross the Britannia road bridge, northbound across Snowdonia bound for Caernarfon

On the northern outskirts of Porthmadog the Welsh Highland two-foot gauge tracks cross the Network Rail standard gauge lines (four foot eight and a half inches, above) on a flat crossing. In reinstating the long derelict Welsh Highland Line, the Ffestiniog Railway Company performed many seeming miracles, such as reclaiming disused track bed from farmers who had used it for field access for decades. Not least of their achievements was establishing this flat crossing across Network Rail's main line from Pwllheli to Machynlleth and the associated signalling complications to ensure safe train separation between operations on the two railways.  

Here is a video of our train leaving the Glaslyn estuary and beginning the climb to Pont Croesor:

Click here to see the video

Here is a video of our train setting off from Nantmor, the second station north from Porthmadog:

Last time I travelled this line I had superb weather with great views of Snowdon summit. Not today though, with low cloud over the mountains.

A Garratt in kit form! This dis-assembled locomotive is awaiting attention, stored by the sheds at Dinas.

A Garratt and a castle; our locomotive detached from its train at the Caernarfon terminus, ready to run-around for the return journey.

The station at Caernarfon is temporary, as construction of a new station on the same site is about to commence.

This overhead view of our loco and train at Caernarfon shows how the Garratt's front power bogie carries the water tank while the rear one carries coal as well, the locomotive itself being suspended between the two bogies

'Girl on a train'. At a passing loop on the return journey we passed the Porthmadog - Caernarfon train.

A glimpse of the sea to the south as we approach the Aberglaslyn Pass on our descent from the mountains of Snowdonia to Porthmadog

Here is a video of our train crossing the Britannia road bridge and entering Harbour Station, Porthmadog, this time filmed from the train:

On the morning of Wednesday 14th I walked to Porthmadog station to catch the 09:52 train home. Here's a different view of that flat crossing, where the two foot gauge Welsh Highland line crosses the standard gauge Network Rail line, this time photographed from the Arriva Wales train to Machynlleth and on to Shrewsbury. Note the gates across the narrow gauge line.

Barmouth bridge, viewed from the train on the journey south along the glorious Cambrian Coast line.
From Machynlleth the Arriva Wales class 158 picked up its skirts and sped to Talerddig passing loop on the faster mid Wales line, where we stopped to allow the opposite direction train to pass (all these Welsh lines are single track). After that brief stop we were soon up to speed again, stopping at Caersws, Newtown, and Welshpool before I left the train at Shrewsbury. After a wait in the station it continued on its way to Birmingham International.

 Another Arriva Wales train took me to Wilmslow from Shrewsbury, one of the comfortable class 175 units on a South Wales to Manchester service. I was there by 14:45, in nice time for the 14:54 No.88 bus from the station to home.