Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Chedd Crossing Keeper today

Pictures from CVR  Facebook page, by Frank Richards and Dave Gibson. Please click on any one for a larger image.

Cheddleton station in festive mood as families crowd the platform where the Santa Train awaits departure for Froghall

The Churnet Valley Railway are into the Santa Train season; a seven-coach train topped and tailed by the Polish Tank and Class 33 diesel 'Sophie'. The train runs for 11 days in December, including all this week up until Christmas Eve, and makes several trips up and down the line as this copy of the Working Time Table (WTT) shows.

Working Time Table (WTT) for this week (click on it for a larger image). The times that are significant for the Crossing Keeper are departures from Cheddleton water tower ('down' trains) and arrivals at Cheddleton ('up' trains), as these movements require the gates to be opened for the trains.

Crossing keeper is the first job I checked out in on the Churnet Valley Railway and a pre-requisite for training as a signalman in Consall box. Consall box is only used for days when two trains are running on the line, so they can cross at Consall, and there have been no such days on the railway since my last turn in the box in August see here. Kevin, who makes up the volunteer rotas, was desperate for Crossing Keeper volunteers this week so I put myself forward for today's slot.

There is a requirement for a Crossing Keeper at Cheddleton as Basford Hall Lane crosses the railway on a level crossing adjacent to the station. The Keeper's main job is to open and close the crossing gates for trains, and signal the trains across the crossing once the gates are secured open for the railway (and therefore closed across the road). 

There is a fixed 'home' signal either side of the crossing at which the train must stop unless the Crossing Keeper gives the driver a yellow flag (yellow lamp in darkness, which was the case with the last two trains today) to authorise him to pass the signal 'at danger'. It is therefore a 'fail safe' system as the train will only proceed across the crossing if the Keeper has set the gates and given the driver authorisation to cross.

The Polish Tank gets away from Cheddleton as I stand by the opened (for the railway) crossing gates today wearing my 'grease-top' hat. The fixed home signals for the 'down' direction can be seen on the gantry, both at 'danger', but I have authorised the driver to pass the signal by use of a yellow flag.

I arrived at Cheddleton at about 08:20 this morning to unlock the crossing gates, fit the lamps to the gates, and switch on the 'annunciator' system which gives warning to the Keeper by sounding an alarm when a train is approaching in either the 'up' or 'down' direction. I was also able to help with shunting the train and locomotives ready for the day's services. 

The annunciator alarm gives the Keeper time to stop any road traffic, open and secure the gates across the road, and prepare to give the train driver a yellow flag (or lamp) by the time the train is approaching the crossing. 'Down' trains don't stop at Cheddleton station, but run through to Leekbrook Junction, where they reverse, stopping at Cheddleton in the 'up' direction.

The Santa trains, unusually, are timetabled to take on water at Cheddleton water tower, just south of the station when travelling in the 'down' direction. The annunciator alarm can therefore be ignored for these trains, as there is no need to open the crossing gates for them until they are ready to leave the water tower for Leekbrook Junction. This is signalled to the crossing keeper by several loud blasts on the locomotive's whistle. Notice to open the gates for 'up' rains is given by the annunciator alarm in the normal way.

It can be seen from the WTT that the times of interest to the Crossing Keeper are the following:

'Up' trains departing Cheddleton water tower:   11:06, 12:36, 14:06, 15:36, and 16:51

'Down' trains approaching Cheddleton:   11:19, 12:49, 14:19, 15:49, and 17:12.

At the end of the day the Crossing Keeper switches off the gate lamps and annunciator systems, locks up the Crossing Keeper's hut, removes the lamps from the gates and places them in store, locks the gates 'open' for road traffic, and finally leaves the keys in Cheddleton signal box ready for the next Keeper tomorrow.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Santa train on the Churnet Valley line this week.

The Polish Tank clagging well as it gets the Santa Train away from Froghall. Note the rust on the rails of the adjacent loop line; with the train topped and tailed there is no need for the loco to run-round as usual, so the loop is not used. 

Lovely Consall, site of 'my' signal box. This station is not used on the Santa timetable (a 'bah humbug! station according to stationmaster, Howard) so the train runs through without stopping. The seven BR Mk1 coaches and Class 33 'Sophie' on the back of the train can be seen in this picture.

Christmas Eve at Cheddleton. The Polish Tank leaves the water tower and heads for the crossing on its way to Leekbrook with one of Wednesday's Santa Specials.


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Beer By Train on the Mid Cheshire Line

We've done the classic Beer Trail on the Leeds to Manchester line several times. It was made famous some years ago by James May and Oz Clark, and has featured on this blog more than once (last time was here). Today, we did one nearer to home - entirely in Cheshire (but nudging Wales!).

Here is the itinerary:

Wilmslow 10:18 dep (88 bus)
Knutsford 10:40 arr
Knutsford 11:00 dep (Train)
Chester station 11:47 arr
Old Harkers Arms (http://www.brunningandprice.co.uk/harkers/) 12:00 arr (walk)
Old Harkers Arms (no apostrophe!) 12:40 dep for station (walk)
Chester Station 12:57 dep
Mouldsworth 13:08 arr
Lunch at the Goshawk (http://www.thegoshawkpub.co.uk/beers/)
Mouldsworth 15:08 dep
Plumley 15:34 arr
Drink at Golden Pheasant (http://www.goldenpheasantatplumley.co.uk/)
Plumley 16:34 dep
Knutsford 16:40 arr
Knutsford 16:45 dep (88 bus)
Bird in Hand arr 16:54
Bird in Hand dep 18:34 (last bus)

It all went like clockwork - except for the 88 bus. This service is far too tightly timed so often runs at times that bear no relationship at all to the published timetable. Malc and I were in place by about 10:10 this morning at Davenport Green, but there was no bus. 10:20 came and went, and our bus finally arrived at 10:35, making our rail connection at Knutsford (11:00) a tad tight as most of our party had to buy tickets at Knutsford station.

Chester station's Italianate facade. It was designed by Francis Thompson and opened in 1848 as Chester General (see 'A bit of Mid Cheshire Line history' at the end of this post). 

The trains, as they usually do, all ran to time and we arrived on board a 142 'Pacer' at the old Chester General station spot on time at 11:47 for the ten minute walk to our first port of call, the 'Old Harkers Arms' (no apostrophe!).

As usual please click on any picture for a larger image.

Our first port of call, the 'Old Harkers Arms', Chester, formerly a canal boat chandlers run by a Mr Harker (so there should be an apostrophe)

Ivan, me, Malc, John, and Mike in the Harkers

Mike, me, John ready to head back to the station

We were back at Chester station in time for the 12:57 departure to Manchester, which we would ride for just one stop, to Mouldsworth.  Ivan, John, Malc on the 142 'Pacer'.

Mouldsworth station

After leaving the train at Mouldsworth we made our way the 100 yards or so to the Goshawk, formerly 'The Station Hotel'

We lunched at the 'Goshawk'; Ivan, Malc, Me, Mike, John

'Piffle' is a 'house' bitter in the Goshawk, and very good it is too. Apparently this beer mat depicts Woodward & Falconer's accountant when he sees the cost of the ingredients!

After an excellent lunch (and some lovely 'Piffle' bitter) we returned to Mouldsworth station for the next leg (Malc, John, me, Ivan)

Mouldsworth.... "the train should be here about now" 

 "And here it is!"

 This time our train was a class 150 Sprinter, strengthened to 2 units (4 coaches) to cater for the school and college traffic using the line from Greenbank onwards 

Heading towards to our next port of call, the 'Golden Pheasant' at Plumley, formerly 'The Railway Inn'

The visit to the Golden Pheasant seems to have gone unphotographed, but we enjoyed a couple of pints of good ale before the short walk back to Plumley station and a one-stop ride on the train to Knutsford, where we waited an age for the very late running 88 bus. But when it arrived, it took us to our final port of call, the Bird in Hand at Knolls Green, near Mobberley. Even on the 1836 tithe map, this pub is shown as 'Bird i'th hand', so hasn't significantly changed its name.

As readers of this blog will know, the Bird is a regular stopping off point at the end of a day out on the motorbikes, it being very near home. And with excellent Sam Smiths beer at £1.80 a pint and open roaring coal fires, it's a gem of a pub. Malc stayed on the bus continuing to Wilmslow while the hardy members of the crew enjoyed some Sam Smiths!

We were reduced to four by now; I hold up our itinerary which we managed to stick to. The 88 bus nearly caused us grief by its late running, but as usual the trains were spot on time.

We had aimed to catch the last 88 bus home to Wilmslow, but the second to last bus was running so late, we caught that instead!

And so ended another great day out, and a different slant on the usual 'Beer By Train' trip!

Thanks to Mike and Ivan for the pictures above.


A bit of Mid Cheshire Line history:

The Mid Cheshire Line

The Mid Cheshire Line comprises two former railways; the Cheshire Midland and the West Cheshire Railway. The Cheshire Midland, completed in 1863, ran from Altrincham (where it made an end-on connection with the 1849 Manchester South Junction & Altrincham Railway) to Northwich. The West Cheshire Railway in 1870 continued this line from Northwich to Helsby via Mouldsworth, the major structure on the line being Leftwich Viaduct over the River Dane, River Weaver, and the Weaver Navigation which had to be high enough to allow tall-masted sailing ships on the latter to pass underneath.

In 1875 the West Cheshire built a branch from Mouldsworth to Chester Northgate station. Both railways were incorporated into The Cheshire Lines Committee that year.

Today, the former West Cheshire line from Mouldsworth to Helsby has gone, and only the route to Chester remains as the western section of the Mid Cheshire Line, now singled.

Chester Northgate and the railways around Chester

Originally, the Mid Cheshire Line ran into Chester Northgate station, not Chester General (now just plain 'Chester') as it does today. British Railways, in 1969 some years post Beeching, closed Chester Northgate Station. BR had quite an appetite for reducing the rail network, a trend which is happily being reversed to some extent today as our railways enjoy a renaissance under private ownership.

Please click on the maps for a larger image. 

The blue arrow points to the erstwhile Chester Northgate Station, closer to the town centre than is the single surviving station in Chester, Chester General (on right hand side of the map). The original Cheshire Lines Committee route for Mid Cheshire Line trains enters the map on the upper of the two railway lines on the right hand side of the map, while today all trains enter on the lower one either on the former Birkenhead Joint Line or the line from Crewe.

Changes at Mickle Trafford

Originally there were two stations called Mickle Trafford, one on the Cheshire Lines Committee line (CLC) opened in 1889, and one on the Birkenhead Joint line (BJL) opened in 1875.

 Mickle Trafford junction, controlling the eastern approach to Chester, has undergone several changes. This map shows the two separate stations and the 1942 link between the BJL and CLC lines. Prior to this date the two railways were unconnected despite being adjacent.  
The Mid Cheshire line from Mouldsworth comes in at top right on the map above and leaves (for Chester Northgate Station) at Hoole, the upper of the two lines on the left. The BJL line from Frodsham comes in at top centre and exits lower left (for Chester General). Despite the proximity of the two railways, there was no connection between them until 1942, when the link shown on the map above was put in. At the same time the two stations were combined into a single staggered-platform station, which closed in 1951.

In 1969 to facilitate the closure of Northgate station, the link was reversed to allow CLC trains to enter Chester General station. Later, the original link was re-instated as well, to form a scissors crossing, so trains could access both lines from both directions. Northgate Station closed in 1969 but freight trains continued to use the CLC line from Mickle Trafford to Chester until that line closed completely in 1994 and its tracks, leaving the map at Hoole, were lifted.

The junction was simplified at that time to its current layout, with the former CLC line simply joining the former BJL in the Chester direction. All trains now use the lower left (former BJL) line to Chester General Station. The original formation of the line to Northgate can still be seen on its embankment where it crossed over the BJL, as can, among the trees which have grown up since, a piece of track that formed part the CLC to BJL arm of the 1969 scissors junction.