The Great Central Railway (GCR) had very kindly agreed to lay top ballast along the branch during the week commencing May 16th. This meant that the pressure was on as we only had two weeks left to lay the final three panels. The team had a big push and managed to lay two additional panels on the 7th. Both were slewed into position, plated and keyed up. We also dragged out two more pairs of rails from the stack and set them up ready for cutting and drilling by the Tuesday group. The GCR main line had now well and truly disappeared out of sight behind us and we could look out from the branch and see the GCR viaducts stretching across Swithland reservoir.
The GCR's signalling team have also installed the arm on the branch exit signal.
May 14th 2011
Our Tuesday group of volunteers had successfully cut and drilled the rails so we were ready to lay the final panel. Sleepers were laid out and positioned ready to receive the rails which we soon had in position, slewed and ready to receive ballast trains. The head of steel (HOS) is only three panels from the end of the long curve and the farm track level crossing is only another couple of panels beyond that.
We have rail for a further 450m of track and once donations have been received to fund the sleepers to go with it, the intention is to bring the rail to the branch and unload it at the end of the laid track. From here it will be dragged out in pairs using a tractor, right along the long straight. This should greatly increase track laying speed as all the rail will be in the correct place as we come to lay it. This won't happen though until we have raised the funds for the sleepers and other fittings, so please donate to our appeal fund to help make this happen.
The team spent the rest of the day packing the full length of all our new track so that it was able to take the ballast trains, which were due onto the branch during the following week. This was an important job because if sleepers are not supported properly the weight of the train can literally snap them in two!
May 16th 2011 - history is made!
This was an important day in local history as at 1:40pm the first train in 52 years ventured tentatively out of the loop at Swithland Sidings and onto the branch line. The historical event was captured on film:
This would be the first of several trains to run over the following three days as 200 tonnes of ballast were dropped and spread over our newly laid track. By the end of Wednesday the branch was starting to look like a proper railway.
The project would like to say a big thank you to all the community volunteers who have worked on the project, the public whose donations have allowed us to get this far, and to the GCR for their assistance with material moves, loan of tools and the ballast laying.
Over the coming weeks our volunteers will be aligning the track to its final position, leaving this section of the branch ready to receive heritage trains. The initial intention is for the GCR to run demonstration freight trains using the restored replica Mountsorrel Granite Company wagons, at future galas.
Our thoughts are now turning to relaying the rest of the branch to Mountsorrel and unlocking the full potential of the branch as both a linear museum and a heritage passenger railway linking Mountsorrel to the Great Central! This can only happen with your donations so please consider donating to our appeal fund.
One new panel was laid. This may not sound like much compared to the previous week's four, but we had so many other tasks to undertake as well. We had to move and lay out all the sleepers for the new panel and also key up all one side of the four panels laid last week, both which took quite a lot of time and effort. We also had to move some of the ballast bed to support the new panel as the track is moving slightly off centre to where the ballast was laid. This is because since the ballast bed was laid in November 2009, we have been able to achieve a better track line to ensure that we have a constant radius for the full length of this long curve.
The head of steel (HOS) is also becoming some considerable distance from the rail stack, so the opportunity was taken to use two rail trolleys to move the rails. The trolleys would become a great asset to us over the coming weeks.
The Tuesday group had taken on the challenge of cutting and drilling rails ready for Saturday's laying sessions.
April 16th 2011
A further panel of track was laid this week leaving only four more to go during our current track laying phase. The Tuesday group spent the day laying out sleepers for the next panel.
April 23rd 2011
It was Easter weekend with many volunteers away making the best of the good weather. Our numbers weren't high enough this week to move rail but the GCR had brought a wagon to the branch with 40 more sleepers. The opportunity was taken to unload the wagon and construct a new sleeper stack near to the HOS.
April 30th 2011
With volunteer numbers restored a further panel was laid, plated up, slewed into position and keyed up. The GCR was almost out of sight in the distance behind us.
Third and final part of this diary to follow later this week.