Our winter work programme is in full swing, the most important feature of which is the return to steam of Darent. It is currently stripped down for its annual boiler test.
Last year the boiler inspector indicated that it may need major work, replacement of the front tube plate; a long and costly job. However, it was inspected on Tuesday January 31st and passed fit for another year’s use with only some minor work to do which should not take too long.
Working on the loco is far from easy as there is not really enough room to work in the container we use as a Steam Shed. It also needs a pit to do work underneath and that has to be outside. To improve things this year we have erected a plastic tent on a scaffolding frame to keep the weather out which has worked quite well. However, there is a problem with the pit – it keeps filling with water and this has to be pumped out before use.
Next in our winter work programme is the installation of the point for the breakout from the Hanworth Loop. Starting work on this has been delayed waiting to see if the special fishplates we need can be made in time. We are assured that they will be ready so work has started. The plain track has been lifted and the point laid. However, it will take a couple of weeks to get it connected up and properly ballasted; it must be ready for March 18th when our season opens.
With regard to the “breakout”, the new point is being installed immediately after the Steam Shed. A thorough check of the quality of the point and assembly of all the components has been made. This point, together with some track bought recently is virtually new. It came from the MoD depot at Eastriggs, although being nearly 30 years old is almost unused.
At the same time we are profiling the embankment from the breakout point up to the footpath to the ticket office and the platform. About a third of this has now been done. Vegetation removal has been continuing over the last few weeks to achieve sight line and levels. The transfer of the Steam Shed access footpath to the opposite side of the track has commenced.
The design of the embankment and track bed is in progress with centre line ranging rods placed initially to assist with the decision on which roots of the bush and tree vegetation are absolutely required to be removed. A retaining wall of some form may be necessary and David Lewis is reviewing the requirement. Finishing this is not so urgent as we will lay track there during the summer.
Not quite so urgent is extending two sidings, the new one by the station and the one by the running shed. These need to be longer to take the rolling stock now parked on the gravel area beneath the crew room. That space is needed to store more rails coming from the same source as the recent delivery. That is to be paid for with a long term loan from the Kempton Great Engines Trust.
Work continues to complete the solar power project. This is to provide lighting in the sheds and Ticket Office which are all away from mains power. A grant from the Heathrow Community Fund is paying for this.
Work on the lease from Thames Water for the land needed for the extension is progressing well and the hope is that it will be effectively in place by Easter this year! Once that is done we can apply for Planning Permission and then start work on the extension proper.
At our request, a representative from the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) is visiting us in March. This promises to be a very useful visit and should give us confidence that we are operating safely and securely.
We have the urgent need for a small dumper truck for building the trackbed for the breakout. Does anyone know of one for sale in good condition and at a reasonable price?
Finally, it looks as though we have solved the problem of a new catering manager although we still need volunteers to actually sell refreshments and run the trains. If you can help come and see us on a Sunday when trains are running.