Infrastructure News

News reports covering work on the track, lineside, buildings old and new, signalling, bridges and other civil engineering across the Bluebell Railway


Ketches Track Relay – Tidying upFebruary/March 2024

With the rails now joined back up, the site needed to be cleared for ballasting and tamping. The equipment and track are loaded onto the Road-Railer trailers to be taken back to Horsted Keynes. The track sections are then unkeyed so that the concrete sleepers can be recovered for further use and the life expired rail sent for scrap. After a delay due to bad weather, fresh new ballast was dropped onto the freshly laid track using two of our ballast hopper wagons pulled by the 09 diesel. As the stone was dropped, the road railer with the plough bucket attached followed the wagons and spread the stone out over the track out to the sleeper ends ready for tamping.


Unloading the old track at Horsted Keynes     Replaced track is stacked at hrosted

Moving tracked vehicle  Ploughing the Ballast

Track ploughing image: Jon Goff

All other images: Mike Hopps

Ketches Track Relay – Day 6February 2024

By the end of Monday 26th February, all of the new rails were in place. There is still plenty to do with ballasting and tamping to be done.

  Laying the sleepers

The sleepers are stacked to the side of the formation prior to the relay in stacks of 8 or 16. When required they are moved 4 at a time using a bar which has 8 lugs which fit the eyes on the sleepers. The sleepers are then craned over onto the prepared formation. As the rail has not yet been laid, a tracked crane is required rather for this than a road-rail vehicle. The sleepers are swung round into position. Wooden spacers are use to correctly distance the sleepers from each other and the marked line denotes the position of the sleeper ends. Even so, a degree of fettling with a bar is needed to get the positions close to their final position. The rails are lifted in as can be seen from the previous entry.

Cutting the rail   Laying out the pandrol clips and insulators
As the rails are being craned in, the pandrol track clips and insulators a re laid out. We are laying track on a curve so while the outside rail is full length, the inner rail needs to be cut with the rail saw.

Bolting up the fishplates  Clipping up

The outer rails had the fishplate holes drilled in advance of the relay but because of the curve and the requirement to cut the inner rail to length, one pair of holes are drilled in situ. The Milwaukee electric drive is used to tighten fishplate bolts. In the image on the right, the setter (blue tool on the right) is used to position the sleeper laterally and provide any lift needed to bring the sleeper up to the rail. The setter is not required for every pair of clips. The tool on the left is a puller which draws the pandrol clip into place

.The end is reached

The rail has been relayed from the north. At the south end, the rail now meets to old 96 pound bullhead. As can be seen, there is a considerable difference in the shape of the rail and special junction plates are required. These can be seen lying on the sleeper end. What cannot be judged is the difference in wear between the new flat bottomed rail and the old rail. This leads to a step in height at the rail head. There are a variety of junction plates which allow for this and bring the railheads level. Needless to say that the junction plates we initially brought along did not have the correct step. This will be easily rectified the next day.

Images: Jon Goff, Mike Hopps and Bruce Healey

Ketches Track Relay – First 3 daysFebruary 2024

19th February saw the start of the track relay of 19 track panels at Ketches. The 96 pound rail is life expired and will be scrapped although the concrete sleepers will be retained for re-use. A ‘rail snipper’ was used to cut the track into short sections for easy removal later. This part of the trackbed is in decent condition and as that section is slightly raised, a terram and polythene sandwich layer was not required (unlike the remaining 23 panel section south of the present relay where the track bed is in poor condition. By close of play on Wednesday 21st, the bed had been bulldozed and then compacted with a triple ‘whacker’ and the first four 60 foot track panels had been laid. Wednesday the 21st was a particularly wet day with further rain predicted for Thursday 22nd.

The old track  The track snipper in action

Left: the old track prior to relaying. The monuments between the rails are not being retained

Right: the track ‘snipper’ in action

The cut rails       The old trackbed

Left: The snipped rails

Right: The old track has been removed and the track bed is ready for bulldozing and compacting.


Prepared trackbed   Rail being tandem lifted in

Left: The prepared trackbed. The white posts to the left were put in before the relay and mark 2 metres from the old rail. Havng removed the old track, the posts can be used to reinstate the former line of the track as marked by the yellow line. This line marks where the sleeper ends will come.

Right: A rail is tandem lifted onto the sleepers

Gapping the rails 

Left: Ensuring there is the correct gap between the newly laid rails

Right: The first track panels are in and clipped up

All images: Jon Goff

Sheffield Park Station work completedFebruary 2024

The shutdown up to the half term break saw the completion of the work at Sheffield Park Station. For platform 2 the tasks were: –

– Removing all the track in platform 2
– Digging out the track bed in platform 2 to the correct depth
– Installing new point rod stools the whole length of platform 2
– Digging a new drain down the length of the platform and lining it and the track bed with a waterproof membrane
– Replacing the wooden sleepers with bullhead concrete sleepers
– Trimming the rails to get rid of the dipped joint
– Redrilling the rail ends and putting the same rails back
– Ballasting and tamping with new ballast
– Digging out a lot of holes and installing point rodding concrete supports
– Service and re-timber the half-sets, (point blade sections) of the points at the south end of platform 2

Turned out nice again  Drainage channel complete

Left: Turned out nice again! – Jon Goff.
Right: Drainage channel down the centre of 2 road complete and ballasted over – Tim Crump

Laying sleepers to the marked line  Sleepers and track going in

Left:Sleepers being laid to the marked line – Jon Goff

Right: The rails are going in – Jon Goff

Trimming the rail ends  

Left: Shortening the rails to cut out the dipped rail ends – Jon Goff

Right: Re-assembly of the points half sets at the south end of platform 2 – Tim Crump

Meanwhile work was continuing on Platform 1:-

– Replacing the steps and brackets up to the footbridge on platform 1
– Digging out and levelling the south end of platform 1 including lowering the manholes lamp posts drains etc.
– Repair the corbel brick layers at the south end of platform 1
– Installing cable ducts and a new manhole on platform 1
– Erect a new lamppost at the bottom of platform 1 ramp

New platform edge  Mounting for the new footbridge steps

Left: The new platform edge – Jon Goff

Right: The mountings for the new footbridge steps – Mike Hopps

Sheffield Park work startsJanuary 2024

Just two weeks into the New Year and Sheffield Park station is looking like a big building site. Track already lifted from Platform 2 and the formation being dug out to remove the clay and pebbles before relaying properly with the now usual Terrram and polythene sandwich. At the same time as drainage is installed, new stools to take point rodding will be positioned ready for the new signal box installation. 7 point at the south end which leads to the Pumphouse siding is also being replaced. Over on Platform one, the whole of the south end is fenced off as a secure site while work is going on to improve the edging of the dock, remedy failed corbelling on the platform face and correctly aligning slabs. While the work proceeds, ducting for future proofing any electrical upgrades will also be installed. The steps and supporting brackets on the footbridge, platform one side are also being renewed to complete the job which we started on platform two some years ago. A bit of a challenge when work started yesterday morning as the temperature was -4° C and locks were found to be frozen. Thankfully the sun came out later on which improved working conditions.


Sheffield Park Platform 2 viewed from platform 1    The trackbed of platform 2

Sheffield Park - P1    Sheffield Park Platform 1

All photos – Mike Hopps

splash The Queen's Award for Voluntary Service

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with huge thanks to Jon Goff, Mike Hopps, Kevin Tucker, Brian Kidman and Bruce Healey.