Sunday, 21 October 2012

Manchester ATC visit

National Air Traffic Services (NATS) which operates Air Traffic Control (ATC) at Manchester Airport today hosted a group of private pilots to show them 'behind the scenes' at ATC at Manchester. I was one of the lucky ones invited along. The purpose of the visit was for NATS to show PPLs (holders of Private Pilot's Licences) how ATC works 'behind the microphone' and the dramatic effect of pilots inadvertently infringing controlled airspace.

Our host, Chris, met us by Cafe Nero in Terminal 3 and took us through a secure entrance to a conference room in the Tower overlooking  the airfield.

As ever, click on the pictures for larger images.

The conference room in the Tower building, where we introduced ourselves and had a presentation from Chris on ATC at Manchester

'Emirates one-seven' (UAE 17), the daily Airbus A380 from Dubai on short final for runway 23R seen from our conference room

UAE 17 comes over the threshold...

...and flares for landing

A Virgin Atlantic Boeing 747 400 about to line up 23R for departure; a much better looking aeroplane than the massive whale-like A380 in my opinion

From the conference room Chris took us up to the VCR (Visual Control Room) on top of the tower. I've been here before, but am always impressed by the quiet and relaxed atmosphere of the VCR.

Looking from the VCR to the south west, the new ATC Tower nearing completion by Fairey's apron. It's almost 3 miles from the existing tower to the threshold of 05R (the far end of the new runway) and the new tower is both higher and closer to that threshold and so will give a better view of it (Manchester weather permitting!). 

But the real driver for the Airport to invest the £24m the new tower is business continuity. The present tower is on top of Terminal 1, and if that terminal had to be evacuated, or worse burned down, the Tower would be put out of action and the airport would have to close down. There is an emergency 'Tower' facility in the form of a portacabin by the runway, but it would be completely inadequate for anything but perhaps landing the last few aircraft before the airport had to close.

The A380 on stand, with its double-deck jetbridges and catering truck. 

Let's have a closer look at that A380 on stand....

An unexpected arrival was this Beluga. It was inbound to Hawarden to pick up Airbus wings for the Toulouse factory but the visibility was only 200m which is below landing minima for the ILS at Hawarden. It therefore diverted into Manchester. From the VCR we could see the line of the fog about 20 miles to the west as we bathed in glorious sunshine and unlimited visibility.

To the left of the picture a Fed Ex aircraft can be seen on the freight apron.

A view across the top of the Terminal 1 multi storey car park (where I take my students for a view of the airfield on Education airport tours) to the aircraft lined up at Terminal 2

Aircraft on Terminal 1

The new Tower, with the Concorde hangar at the Runway Visitor Park beyond

A controller on duty in the VCR

Another interior view in the VCR

The ridge of Alderley Edge to the South, with the radio mast on Sutton Common visible in the left background, and the summit of Bosley Cloud near Congleton in the right background

Down on the 4th floor of the Tower is the Radar room. The Manchester sub centre used to be here controlling all traffic below 22,000 feet from the Scottish border down to Birmingham. Now, that has been incorporated into 'Scottish' ATC at Prestwick and only three radar positions remain. 

On the right is the Manchester Approach controller who is the first contact for inbound aircraft and who vectors them either into a hold or towards final approach. To his left is Manchester Director who spaces the inbounds correctly and vectors them onto the ILS (Instrument Landing System), a radio aid that guides aircraft down final approach to a landing. At quiet times both functions are carried out by the Approach controller, while at busy times the third desk (that of Approach North out of sight to the left) splits the approach workload between two Approach controllers

A plan view of the airfield

If you're wondering what mayhem can be caused by a rogue aeroplane infringing controlled airspace, consider what has to be done if ATC don't know the aircraft's altitude (and they won't unless the miscreant is squawking Mode Charlie - that is, using an altitude-reporting radar transponder). The controllers will have to maintain a 5 nautical mile separation between the rogue and all other traffic at all levels. This might entail breaking aircraft off their approaches, holding aircraft on the ground instead of allowing take offs, and of course if the miscreant comes within 5 miles of the airport, the airport has to shut down all movements.

Here's a speeded-up radar recording of an infringement of the Manchester Low Level Route (a 1,300' high north - south corridor though the Control Zone). Click on the link and scroll down to event number 7.

Thankfully the vast majority of private pilots are highly trained, conscientious, and competent, so such events are vanishingly rare.

Events such as today's help keep it so. Well done NATS! And thank you for a great visit.


Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Cauldon Lowe branch - in sunshine!

While I've been beavering away becoming first a crossing keeper and hopefully soon a signalman on the Churnet Valley Railway, I've had a few train trips up and down the valley but only been able to watch the monthly trains that go beyond Leekbrook into Moorland & City Railway territory up to Cauldon Lowe. That's because when Cauldon trains are running there's also a service up and down the valley, so two trains, so we have Consall signalbox in operation for the trains to pass at Consall, and Leekbrook has to be manned to manage trains there. Today however was unique so far during my time as a CVR volunteer; the only train running today was doing two return trips from Froghall all the way to Cauldon Lowe. Only one train, so no signallers needed - so I could travel as a passenger!

I've been up the branch once before, in the first week following its re-opening by M&CR on 19th November 2010. That's covered early in this blog ( ), and if you go and take a look you'll see it was a foggy day. This morning was a bit misty, but that soon burned off to give a gloriously sunny autumnal day. Even earlier on the blog is a post about the reopening of the M&CR Cauldon branch. It can be seen, with a schematic drawing of the geography, at:

Here's that geographic schematic:

Stoke-----------Endon-------------Leekbrook------------------------Cauldon Lowe

Schematic of the geography of today's journeys were Froghall to Leekbrook (CVR) and on to Cauldon Lowe (M&CR) branch.  The Churnet Valley Line runs from Oakamoor to Leekbrook. The proposed Leek extension extends north from there, the M&CR link to Stoke to the west, and the M&CR Cauldon branch to the east.

As ever, click on any picture to enlarge it.

 Slightly misty Froghall station this morning

Lovely Consall, looking a bit 'Close Encounter'

We had the N7 tank engine on the front of the train, Class 33 Diesel 'Captain Charles' on the back. The N7's tanks need frequent refilling so we stopped at the water tower just outside Cheddleton. Here, our driver tops up his charge.

Sunny Leekbrook! The spring point was locked over for the loop line and the gate through to the M&CR from the CVR was opened. On our return from the M&CR branch to the CVR on the second (last) trip of the day the train crew unlocked the point and closed and locked the gate.

This is the northern end of the Churnet Valley railway. The line ahead used to run to Leek (and might again before too long) then on to Rudyard, Bosley, North Rode, and Macclesfield. But we branch off the CVR to the right onto the 1 in 50 climb of the Moorland & City branch to Cauldon Lowe.

Crossing over the A520 Leek to Stone road, looking north towards Leek

Apesford crossing, which I've manned a couple of times myself (don't mention bleedin caravans!). It's John's turn today.

Up onto the high moors

Near Ipstones we encountered cows on the line. They set off towards Cauldon but soon went back up the embankment and didn't delay us long.

Arriving at Cauldon Lowe where there is now a run-round loop. We won't be using today as we are topped and tailed (we have a loco at each end of the train so can simply reverse back the way we came).

The end of the Cauldon Lowe branch. The line here used to go on to the stone quarries, and a little further back there was a branch to the left to Waterhouses from where a narrow gauge line continued up the Manifold Valley to Hulme End in the White Peak. That line closed in the 1930s but was built at the same time as the Stoke - Leekbrook - Waterhouses / Cauldon line under the same light railway order.

Before we return, the token (giving authority to run on the line),  has to be transferred to the Class 33 as that will be the leading locomotive for the return to Froghall

Our N7 loco, back at Froghall. I decided to stay on the train for its second trip up to Cauldon Lowe and back.

Crossing the A520 again, looking south towards Cheddleton this time on the train's second and final traverse of the Cauldon Lowe branch today

Pelicans at Blackbrook zoo near Ipstones

Ipstones road bridge on the return run from Cauldon Lowe. Ipstones summit is well over 1,000 feet above sea level.

John and a pair of train-watching bikers at Apesford crossing

Inside our comfortable 1st class BR Mk 1 coach

Back onto the CVR on our way down to Froghall, with the M&CR line to Endon and Stoke-on-Trent branching off to the right. This line has been re-opened as far as Endon but no passenger trains run down it yet.

Heres a short video of the N7 struggling on damp rails this morning to get the train re-started from the stop at a road crossing near Ipstones. The gradient is about 1 in 40, and the rail is wet. But eventually a hefty push from our Captain Charles at the back of the train gets us going!

So, a great day on the Churnet Valley and M&CR. And a lovely drive back though the peak district in the top-down MX5 via Onecote, Warslow, Longnor, Axe Edge and the Cat & Fiddle capped it off nicely.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Wow! The Vale of Rheidol - probably the best narrow gauge line in UK

Arriva Trains Wales have re-introduced their 'Club 55' tickets this autumn; travel anywhere on their network for £19 return (£18 with a senior railcard and even cheaper booked on line). Peter De La and I went to Aberystwyth today, catching the 07:46 from Wilmslow to Shrewsbury. From there the mid-Wales line took us via Welshpool and Machynlleth (where the train divided for Pwlhelli or Aberystwyth) to our destination arriving 11:25.

Here's our itinerary for the day:

Green = Ariiva Wales train (club 55)
Purple = Vale of Rheidol train

Wilmslow dep
Shrewsbury arr
Shrewsbury dep
Aberystwyth arr
Aberystwyth dep
Devil’s Bridge arr
Devil’s Bridge dep
Aberystwyth arr
Aberystwyth dep
Shrewsbury arr
Shrewsbury dep
Wilmslow arr

As ever, click on the picture for a bigger image

Aberdovey seen from our train across the salt marshes of the Dovey estuary 

Our train, on arrival at Aberystwyth station

We went to Aberystwyth to travel on the Vale of Rheidol Railway, and it was just fantastic. I'd no idea it would be this good - the scenery starts off quite tame on the lowlands inland from the sea at Aberystwyth, but commences a spirited climb up the side of the deepening valley all the way up to Devil's Bridge. The line clings to the high valley side, many hundreds of feet above the river as it twists and turns its way up for an hour.

But before that, we discovered the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway.

The Cliff Railway bottom station

The down going car helps to pull up the up going car

The top station

The view from the top over the town

Looking north, a Coastguard radar head 

 We head back down to the town

Aberystwyth seems a prosperous well kept town, unlike many Welsh coastal resorts which are feeling the pinch financially

We walked back through the town for a fish & chip lunch opposite the railway station. The terminus for the Vale of Rheidol Railway is right next to the Network Rail station and we were there in plenty of time for the afternoon departure at 14:00.

Our locomotive, No.8, 'Lywelyn', arrives at Aberystwyth with the train from Devil's Bridge. She was built by the Great Western Railway at Swindon in 1923, hence her rather nice GWR colour scheme. The big ugly arrangement in front of her right hand tank is a steam-driven air pump for the train's air brakes.

The coaches are all enclosed, except for this one with open sides and marshaled immediately behind the locomotive

At Nantyronen the loco took water. The fireman can be seen 'putting the bag in' in this view from our coach through the loco cab windows.

The line climbs steeply for many miles up the side of the Vale of Rheidol. It is the most spectacular railway I have travelled on, and Red Kites and Buzzards soar out from the valley sides out over the Rheidol river.

Not only is the line steep, it has tight turns and in places passes through woodland which makes the track damp. Several times during this long climb our loco 'lost her feet' as she slipped on the greasy rail.

Nearing the top at Devil's Bridge, and now well above the valley

This plate shows that the loco was rebuilt in 1996 at Pant by the Brecon Mountain Railway workshops

No.8 at Devil's Bridge gets some well earned attention from her crew after her one hour climb up from the coast

No.8's footplate

While Peter went for a walk, so did I; to find the local pub in Devil's Bridge, some distance from the station. I enjoyed this rather nice pint of Evan Evans CWRW bitter.

The train stayed at Devil's Bridge for an hour before returning down the valley at 16:00

On the journey down, our open coach was now at the back of the train, giving us views back along the line

And looking forward on sharp curves, the loco at the head of the train could be seen

Cwm Rheidol Reservoir is about 1/3 of the way down the 12 mile line from Devil's Bridge

Capel Bangor passing loop

The lower 1/3 of the railway near the coast is relatively flat compared to the steep climbs of the inland 2/3

The train arrived back in Aberystwyth at 17:00, in plenty of time for us to catch the Arriva Wales train to Shrewsbury. Here we approach Dovey Junction where the line from Pwlhelli and the Cambrian Coast comes in from the north to join ours.

At Shrewsbury we caught another ATW train home to Wilmslow, arriving there at 20:40. While waiting for that train at Shrewsbury this Network Rail 'Sandite' train arrived. We are just beginning the leaf fall season, and this train traverses the network at night blasting the rails with a substance which removes the slippery leaf residue. Might it make more sense to cut back the lineside vegetation as the railway did decades ago to not only negate the need for such expensive measures as this but also to allow the passengers a view of the passing countryside rather than have them travel in an almost perpetual green tunnel? The Vale of Rheidol Railway does it so much better, with tree-free unobstructed views across the valley.

By the way, I asked the driver's permission before taking this flash picture of the locomotive.

So we arrived back at Wilmslow almost 13 hours after we left. What a super day!

Here are some videos of the railway:

No.8, working hard, loses her feet

The arrival at Devil's Bridge:

The the last couple of miles back into Abersytwyth videoed from this excellent railway: