Posts Tagged ‘Swanage Railway’

For whom the bell tolls

Sunday, 4 October 2009

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, XVII

bell

Henryk Rutkowski Ship’s Bell, 1992

It was May 1992. I had come to Swanage for a short family holiday and to check out its railways.

Swanage actually has two railways. The best known is the Swanage Railway which was built by George Burt and opened in 1885. Since 1972, the line been the subject of a railway project to run heritage trains and to provide a community service linking with the main line at Wareham. Sadly, while the first objective was achieved some 30 years ago, the second, while seemingly tantalisingly close, remains just out of reach.

Swanage’s other line is the Swanage Pier tramway, a short narrow gauge line built by Burt’s uncle John Mowlem and opened in 1858. As originally planned, the line would have connected the stone quarries at Langton Matravers to the original pier in Swanage, a distance of some 3 km. A balanced inclined plane, similar to that employed on the Merchant’s Railway in the Isle of Portland, would have been built to overcome the 400 ft height difference. Sadly, the staid burghers of Swanage would have none of this, and donkey and horse-drawn carts remained the standard means of bringing stone down from the quarries to the Swanage quayside. All that was built was a short length of single track line connecting two sidings in a stone yard called ‘The Bankers’ to a double track section on the old pier. Halfway along the line a short branch ran into a fish processing building. Though this line has been out of use for nearly 80 years most of the rail is still in place, set in the promenade running from a terrace of houses called ‘The Parade’ up as far as the pier ticket office.

At this stage, regular readers might be forgiven, for concluding that this post was intended for Tunnel Vision and has strayed into Behind The Water Tower by mistake. Patience, dear reader, patience; today’s rambling post will – in the manner of a BWH&AR train – eventually reach its rightful destination. Both Mowlem and Burt left their physical marks on Swanage, bringing redundant material from London such as cast iron bollards and even the frontage of the Town Hall. In a few days time I was about to learn about the quick witted action of two brave Poles whose actions during WWII prevented the Luftwaffe from leaving a different sort of mark the Isle of Wight!

In 1992, Swanage Pier was dreadfully run down. It has since been beautifully restored thanks to a heroic restoration effort, led and funded by local residents – a project comparable in scale to the rebuilding of the Swanage Railway. At the time of my visit most of the pier was closed to visitors, part of the landward side was in use for car parking. Walking along the tramway as far as the pier, I spied a small blackboard that had once carried the notice Parking £1 inscribed in chalk. But that had been rubbed out it now said Henryk Rutkowski, Monday, 11.30am. What or who is the Henryk Rutkowski? I asked the car park attendant. That’s a Polish sailing ship, he replied, You can go for a trip on it if you like. Tickets are on sale in the Tourist Information Office.

Arriving early at the Tourist information office first thing the following day I discovered that the Henryk Rutkowski was a small Polish square-rigged sailing ship which had sailed to Swanage to take part in the town’s Water Festival – an event designed to promote the town as a water sports venue. The first few trips that the Rutkowski was to make with holidaymakers were sold out but I managed to get four tickets for the Wednesday trip. Going for an evening walk along the downs, I heard Polish from a ship’s PA echo over The Downs, the Henryk Rutkowski has arrived.

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The old and new piers at Swanage. Photo Sylwia Talach.

Wednesday arrived all to slowly. In the morning, Swanage celebrated the arrival of a new lifeboat, we looked forward to our afternoon trip on the Rutkowski. I apologised to the Bosman, the ship’s mate, who was checking tickets as we clambered on board. I explained that I only had four tickets, but one of my children has brought a friend. Nie ma problemu. I could see that it was going to be a good day. Perhaps, the highlight of the trip was when he invited one of us to hold the ship’s wheel for a photo opportunity and then seeing that my 14 year-old was doing such a good job, he left us briefly in charge while he chatted up some young ladies in the bows.

Wednesday evening was a what Poles call an integracja event. Which is nothing to do with integral calculus, and everything to do with drinking lots of beer and making new friends. The venue was The Red Lion in Swanage High Street. Some members of Rutkowski’s crew sang sea shanties. I practised my skills as an interpreter. The children had their first lesson in playing pool, courtesy of some friendly locals.

All to soon the holiday was over and it was time to return home, but not before I had conceived of a plan to return and hitch a lift on Rutkowski on the first leg of its journey to Poland, when it sailed from Swanage to Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight. I arrived in Swanage really early so as not to miss the boat. I need not have worried. The previous evening there had been a farewell integracja organised by the Swanage locals and the crew were still recovering.

My new mate, the Bosman asked the Captain whether he was prepared to take on board an English  hitchhiker, Nie ma problemu, and I was on board. During the journey I interviewed him and several members of his crew. On board was a famous Polish sea shanty band the Cztery Refy.  In England, sea shanty bands play to a few bearded locals in the back of a pub; in Poland, the Refy had entertained thousands of youngsters at the big sea shanty festivals in Cracow and on the Mazury Lakes. Later on I wrote up my adventures in an article which subsequently appeared in the London-published Dziennik Polski.

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A Polish Grom class destroyer arrives in Scotland as part of the Peking Plan. Photo former Polish Government in Exile.

(Click photo to see history of the image on Wikipedia.)

The biggest surprise was still ahead of us. Arriving at the pier in Yarmouth we were told that we were invited to be guests that evening at special reception being organised by the Royal Solent Yacht Club. By now, I has become the ship’s ex officio interpreter so, as everybody seemed to expect it, I came along too. It’s perhaps a measure of the success of that evening that I remember very little about it! The following morning, as we took a number of Club members and their friends for a sail, I was told a most extraordinary story which explained the warmth of our reception.

On 4 May 1942, Cowes on the Isle of Wight was bombed by the Luftwaffe who dropped 200 tons of bombs on the town. The Polish Grom class destroyer ‘Blyskawica‘ was being refitted at J Samuel White’s yard, where it had been built and launched 5 years earlier. Captain Wojciech Francki ordered the ‘Blyskawica’ to leave her moorings, and drop anchor outside the harbour. Here, 1st artllery officer, Lieutenant Commander Tadeusz Lesisz and his gunners retaliated all night with such vehemence that her red hot guns had to be doused with water, and more ammunition had to be ferried across from Portsmouth. But for the brave defence put up by the Poles, the human casualties and damage to the town would have been far worse.

Tadeusz Lesisz, born in Kozienice, Poland on 10 July 1918, naval officer in the Polish Navy and the Royal Navy, architect, chairman of the Federation of Poles in Manchester, died on 23 September 2009.

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Lord Adonis travels by train!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

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Lord Adonis sits in the driver’s seat of a Class 395 high-speed train. Photo Kentish Times


The ‘Kentish Times’ published an article last December when Lord Adonis launched the
year long acceptance testing process for the Hitachi built Class 395 trains that will be running local services on the HS1 line between London and Kent. Click picture to read the whole article.

As I travel around Poland by train, one of the commonest gripes that I hear from the train crews is that no-one listens to them – there is no effective feedback channel up which information from the people responsible for service delivery can reach PKP Directors and senior managers. I reply, only half jokingly, that if only PKP directors and government ministers had to queue up to buy their own tickets and travelled around Poland by train – instead of rushing about by plane and chauffeur driven limousine – the quality of service experienced by rail passengers would improve overnight.

In Britain, we may be witnessing the death throes of a government on its last legs, but we do have a transport minister who cares about railways! Lord Adonis is travelling the 2,000 miles of Britain’s rail network that he knows least, just to see what’s going on. He is writing about his experiences in The Times. On Tuesday, he wrote about his journey on the Night Riviera sleeper train to Cornwall. (How many people are aware that there is a sleeper train to Cornwall? It must be one of First Great Western’s best kept secrets!) He also discovers that the one coach trains on the Par – Newquay line can be overwhelmed with passengers during bank holidays.

The line to Newquay is not quite the classic case of the branch line fallen on hard times but it is reviving. It kept its holiday express trains to London post-Beeching and also a good deal of china clay freight traffic. Now it has seven weekday local trains winding slowly along the 21-mile line in addition to the Saturday long-distance trains.

The local trains are mostly single-carriage trains like the one I take. Ours is pretty full there and back, including a party of young surfers out for a day from Saltash who quickly take up all the luggage racks with their surfboards. Apparently on Good Friday the train was so full with surfers that a local coach had to be found to take half of them. With Newquay a growing attraction, the future for the line appears bright, although it is now running at full capacity.

On Wednesday, he writes about his visit to the Swanage Railway.

The large, enthusiastic and highly professional team at the Swanage operate steam and old diesel trains along a dozen miles of track from Norden, with a full daily timetable. They want to link up to the London-Weymouth main line at Wareham. There is strong local support and, since the track is all there and the business case is promising, the proposal is highly credible.

Britain’s preserved steam railways are a remarkable part of the railway system and the national tourist industry. As a proponent of new high-speed rail lines, I am keen to build a new technological future for the railways, breaking with our baleful historic tradition of patch-and-mend. The challenge is to celebrate the best of the past – as do our preserved railways – while boldly seizing the latest technology to create anew for the future.

The track on the Swanage Railway may now be “all there” but it was ripped up in indecent haste by British Railways in an attempt to crush the nascent Swanage Railway Project and was only put back thanks to the heroic work of volunteers and the local residents who dug deeply into their own pockets. Yet, in spite of the best efforts of the Swanage Railway Trust, local residents – after 37 years of waiting – are still without the daily link to the main line network that they have worked so far to achieve. Meanwhile the A351, the main road down the spine of the Isle of Purbeck, has had millions of pounds invested in ‘improvements’ which only serve to funnel more day trippers in their motor cars into the congested streets of Swanage and Corfe Castle.

Were Lord Adonis to intervene to assist the Swanage Railway achieve a permanent link up with the main line what a real difference that could make? As well as a daily commuter service for local residents, how about regular summer weekend steam specials from Bournemouth to Swanage and Corfe Castle to bring day trippers without their cars?

Dyspozytor

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The train now arriving at platform…

Saturday, 7 March 2009

The 8:55 train from London Victoria is running 37 years late. We apologise for any inconvenience to customers.

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Swanage Station, test train from bay platform during Railway Inspectorate inspection of phase on 9.2.2009.
Photo ©Andrew Wright, Swanage Railway

Some 37 years ago, the fledgling Swanage Railway Society wrote to British Railways announcing their plans to operate the Swanage Railway as a preserved railway running community and heritage trains and asking BR to permit the operation of a special train down the Wareham – Swanage branch to publicise the formation of the Society.

The line had closed in 4 months earlier in January 1972 and, unknown to the Society and to most of the elected local authority members in the area, the County Surveyor of Dorset County Council and the Estate Surveyor of British Railways, Southern Region had already reached an understanding about a sale of railway land for a planned by-pass around the village of Corfe Castle half way along the line.

So in July 1972 instead of a special passenger train, British Railways responded to the Society’s inauguration by organising a scrap merchants train to remove track materials from the Swanage branch as quickly as possible.

A 5 year campaign followed, fought mostly by a local residents lobby group. It was they who helped persuade Dorset County Council that the best future use of the railway land would be for a railway, and Swanage Town Council that the best use for Swanage Station would be as a transport hub incorporating a restored railway.

As well as the lobby group the Society had also set up another group to gather items of historic rolling stock. In due course, the members of the latter became members of a purpose-designed designed charitable trust, the Southern Steam Trust and as the local authorities gradually swung round to support the restoration of the railway, the other organisations, were incorporated into the Trust.

Under the auspices of the Trust, the line was gradually rebuilt in stages and finally, after a period of 30 years, the track reached Furzebrook in January 2002 and a temporary connection was made with British Railways tracks a few months later. The connection was made permanent in 2007, but but both connections were only used for empty stock and locomotive movements. No passenger trains ever crossed the boundary between the Swanage railway and BR’s successors, Network Rail.

Now as a result of negotiations led by Swanage Railway Trust chairman, Mike Whitwam, Network Rail have agreed to a limited number of special trains to run from their tracks onto Swanage Railway metals. The first passenger carrying train to run from the national railway network onto the branch since the closure of the branch by BR in 1972 will be a diesel-hauled UK Railtours special on 1st April, 2009.

The train will leave from London Victoria (provisionally 08.55) running via Leatherhead, Effingham and the Pompey Direct, Southampton, Bournemouth, Worgret Junction (prov. 13:02) and Corfe Castle to Swanage (prov. 13:50). Return will be as outward to Southampton then via Romsey, the Laverstock Loop and Basingstoke, reaching Waterloo by around 20.30. Motive power is expected to be a DB Schenker (formerly EWS) Class 66 throughout, with Mark 1 passenger coaches.

It is a sign of the extent to which the story of the Swanage Railway has caught public imagination that, in spite of the special train being diesel hauled and running on a Wednesday, demand for was so high that a second train had to be organised for the following day, 2 April. At least two more special trains, this time steam hauled, are due to traverse the link between Network Rail and the Swanage Railway.

At 08.00 on Saturday May 2nd 2009, ‘The Dorset Coast Express’, a ten-car special hauled by Battle of Britain 34067 ‘Tangmere’, will depart London Victoria to travel to Swanage via Woking, Basingstoke, Eastleigh, Bournemouth and Worgret Junction, returning to London diesel-hauled. On Monday 4th May 2009, a second special, ‘The Royal Wessex’, will run diesel-hauled from London via the same route and return to London Waterloo hauled by unrebuilt light Bulleid pacific 34067 Tangmere.

Mike Whitwam hopes that Network Rail re-signalling in 2013 will facilitate the ultimate objective of the Swanage Railway of running a community service connecting with Network rail at Wareham. We congratulate Mike for taking the Swanage Railway to this important milestone and at the same time hope that a way may be found of running the community service before 2013!

Birmingham spotlight – part 4

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Secundus working on the Furzebrook Railway

We have given Birmingham quite a knock in our previous three posts, so it wouldn’t be fair to leave the City without bestowing a bit of praise.

Secundus, a Bellis & Seekings 0-6-0WT locomotive, was built in Birmingham in 1874. It has a most distinctive appearance – a marine type boiler, cow catchers and sideplates. One can only conclude from the ‘Toby the tram engine’ features that the design was originally intended for use on a roadside tramway, perhaps in Ireland where the 3ft gauge was in extensive use.

Secundus was the second locomotive (obviously!) to be delivered to the 2 ft 8 ½ in Furzebrook Railway in the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Here it worked shunting clay wagons until the railway and all its locomotives were sold. Happily, the demolition contractors, Abelson & Co, presented the locomotive to Birmingham Mueum after the Birmingham Locomotive Club pointed out the engine’s unique status as the only surviving steam locomotive to have been built in the City. For many years, Secundus was hidden away in Birmingham’s Museum of Science Industry, but when the museum closed, the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum Group were able to negotiate the locomotive’s return to Purbeck.

The locomotive is now on display in the railway museum in the former goods shed at Corfe Castle on the Swanage Railway. In the future the PMMMG plan to display the locomotive at a new mining museum that they are building at Norden, the Swanage Railway’s current terminus. Our congratulations all round, particularly to Jane Arthur of Birmingham Museum and Graham Feldwick of the PMMMG. We would also like to pay tribute to the late John Kellaway, a good friend of the Swanage Railway in the dark days of the project (1972-1976), and one of the prime instigators of the idea of a museum based on the mines and narrow gauge railways of Purbeck.

Swanage Project has new boss

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Mike Whitham, chairman of the Swanage Railway Trust
(c) Andrew Wright, Swanage Railway Company

The Swanage Railway Trust Council of Management has elected Mike Whitham to be its new chairman, following the resignation of Bill Trite who had lead the Railway for 17 years. After his election Mr Whitham said, “Ever since my first visit to the Swanage Railway in the mid-1980s, I have passionately believed in the railway, its achievements and its objectives. I am honoured to be chosen to take the Swanage Railway into its next exciting venture – an all-year round amenity train service between Swanage and Wareham.” He also pledged, “I will ensure that this does not compromise the Swanage Railway’s current heritage steam and diesel services.” Mr Whitham started as a trainee signalman on the Swanage Railway in 1996. He became the railway’s volunteer liaison officer in 1999 and then took on the role of youth protection officer. Since May, 2007, he has also been a member of Swanage Town Council. Mr Whitam will also be chairman of the operating company, the Swanage Railway Company.

The Swanage Railway has, since the beginning of the project in 1972, always had the twin objective of both restoring a community rail service linking up with the main line at Wareham and running a heritage railway. Inevitably the signalling iimprovements to make this possible would be very costly. However, under Bill Trite, the Trust’s management have always shied away from raising share capital in the manner of other British heritage railways such as the North Norfolk Railway (the first to do so), the Severn Valley Railway (the first to raise over £100,000) and several others. This context makes Mr Whitham’s next statement very interesting, “It is also important that we secure substantial fundraising to achieve all our goals – as well as exploring the possibility of raising capital for specific projects through grants and seeking new methods for general fundraising. I see my role as ensuring the Swanage Railway further improves its services to the public, as well as attracting more passengers and increasing profitability so the railway can achieve its goals while retaining its unique character.”

Mike’s predecessor, Bill Trite became chairman of the then Southern Steam Trust following a stormy annual general meeting of the Trust in 1991 when the Swanage Railway was in a precarious financial position. With the help of local residents and legal advice from David Morgan, Heritage Railway Association (the UK umbrella body) chairman, Bill Trite lead the railway’s financial recovery and then put in the management systems to ensure that such a crisis could never befall the railway again. Under Bill Trite’s management the Swanage Railway became one of the most popular railways in the South. Last year the Railway carried more than 200,000 passengers, had an annual turnover in excess of £ 2 million, had over 4,000 members, some 400 active volunteers and employed 45 people in full and part-time posts.

The Swanage Railway Project was started by Andrew Goltz, at the time a student at Birmingham University. Together with John Sloboda he formed the Swanage Railway Society in 1972. As Society chairman he lobbied the local authorities, ultimately successfully, to withdraw from using the railway formation for a by-pass and to allow the railway Project to go ahead. From 1978 to 1991 the Project was lead by Southern Steam Trust chairman, Mike Stollery, under whose leadership the physical rebuilding of the railway track, and the restoration of historic rolling stock, made substantial progress; and the operation of revenue earning tourist trains begun.

The Wolztyn magic

Monday, 9 June 2008

Pm36 pacific about to depart on a Wolsztyn-Leszno turn
(photo by Charles Turner, more words and pics here)

In view of the current crisis at Wolsztyn following the sudden ‘suspension’ of the Wolsztyn-Poznan steam workings, we hope that BTWT readers will forgive us if this week’s articles have a heavy Wolsztyn bias. The continuation of scheduled steam workings at Wolsztyn is important for a number of reasons:

  • Wolsztyn is the last steam shed in Europe servicing steam locomotives that haul ordinary scheduled service trains (not steam ‘specials’ or heritage railway trains).
  • This brings a large number of visitors to Wolsztyn who spend their money in the town. (The Mayor of Wolsztyn has claimed that each Wolsztyn Experience visitor spends 1,000 euro in Wolsztyn and that excludes any payments to WE. If one adds the expenditure of all those who come to the Wolsztyn region to photograph and ride on the trains the direct economic benefit of the WE product on the local economy is in the order of 500,000 euro per annum.
  • Howards Jones has an agreement with PKP which was supposed to allow him to run the WE business on its current scale at least until 2010. The premature withdrawal by PKP of 2/3 of all steam workings at a time when WE has paid bookings to fulfill, coupled with other recent arbitrary decisions (see previous post) will give little confidence to international tour operators or others contemplating doing business with PKP.
  • Finally, although WE visitors traditionally flew into Poznan, went to Wolsztyn, did their driving and firing turns, and then returned to Poznan and flew out again, there is no reason why Wolsztyn could not act as an international portal for the Polish heritage railways and museums as a whole. Wolsztyn is known and respected internationally, many Polish heritage railways are virtually unknown beyond a couple of hundred Polish railway enthusiasts. Properly managed the potential for mutual synergy is enormous.

Until we finish our investigation into who is responsible for the sudden suspension of the steam workings to Poznan we are not asking our readers to put pen to paper, just yet. In the meantime we have ‘borrowed’ this brilliant account of a WE customers ‘first time’ from the national-preservation.com discussion group.

Sunday I arrived at Poznan airport and got a bus to the station. On the bus I met a SDR driver and a Swanage fireman who were out there for their annual trip. We quickly bonded over a beer and a sausage and before long it was time for the journey to Wolsztyn. We were on the 15.30 which is steam hauled so I got a look at the standard machine for the week, a Polish 0l49. The journey took about 1hr 45 and was a trip I was booked to do three times that week as driver so I concentrated on trying to familiarise myself with the line, difficult when there is 45 miles to remember! Once there we had a look round the beautiful depot and at the lines of withdrawn engines. It was then to the WE’s house where we were briefed for the weeks activities. I was introduced to my partner for the week and was given my duty for the next day, the 11:47 from Wolsztyn. There were seven other people there that week and we all went for a meal and got to know each other, and got thoroughly bitten by the local mozzies.

There are two Woltsztyn – Poznan trips each day, the earlybird (05:27 – 07:15 and 09:30 – 11:17 return) and the gentleman’s (11:47 – 13.30 and 15:30 – 17:15 return.) I was down to work the gentleman’s train. The system is that one guy drives one way while the other fires, and then vice-versa. I had done some firing in the UK but no driving bar a “driver for a fiver” at the Bluebell, so it was with some trepidation that I climbed into the cab of the 2-6-2 OL, essentially the Polish black 5, a mixed traffic engine that does a bit of everything. Howard Jones gave me a basic introduction to the cab and a guide to the three signs I had to learn, (whistle boards for the unprotected level crossings, the station warning boards 400m from the stations and the stop points at the stations) and then drove the train out of the station. After a mile or so he got up and pointed at me, and I took control of a loco, at 50 mph with passengers on board! The first stop was nerve-racking but once I had done my first stop I soon felt comfortable with the braking. There are 18 stops along the line, although the polish crews usually take over for the last two stops under the wires on the approach to Poznan. The starts have to be brisk, as the steam locos are operating to electric and diesel timings, so you are actively encouraged to “get on with it” and it is a pleasure to do so! We arrived at Poznan and I think my smile could probably have been seen from space! You have to option of going for lunch or going to the depot with the crew. Being a nosy I went down to the MPD to see what happened. The loco was turned and I then watered the loco while the crew oiled up and cooked some sausages. The firing on the way back was what I was most nervous about, but the Ol is a joy to fire. A firing plate at a perfect height and a large firehole door make it a very simple operation. Apart from a few instances where I was mid-swing when the loco hit a bit of rough track, it went quite well and I grew in confidence. We returned to shed after the run back and cleaned the wheels and motion while the crew coaled and watered the loco. We returned to the house to be told our turn for Tuesday, the Prairie at Wroclaw!

A 04:00 wake up saw us leave the house at 04:15, get a train from Leszno and at some ungodly hour arrive in Wroclaw, in time for a quick Big Mac before making our 07:30 departure. We wondered along the platform and there was 5521, a picture of polished Brunswick green, its airpump echoing through the station. The crew were English, from the Flour Mill and a polish driver was there as pilotman/translator. The cab is only big enough for four so one rides in the carriages while the other drives. I opted to catch some shut eye, so I slept for the first journey while my partner drove. The journey is about 20-25 miles and takes about 45 mins, the last 5 miles of track are awful and are covered at just above walking speed, but the first section is along a proper mainline with Intercitys and freights passing you! The middle section is through some beautiful countryside with some lovely gradients and curves. The prairie uses about 1100 gal of its 1300 gal capacity on the trip so after the run we returned to the depot for water, and sausages for the crews (Polish railwaymen exist on a sausage only diet.) Then it was my turn and what a joy the prairie is. Driving, you instantly noticed how responsive the regulator is, compared with the Polish locos. The Prairie’s acceleration is truly impressive and it really flies. You have to be smart about starting away as there could be an Intercity two minutes behind you. The English crew, Geoff and Dougie Phelps, were brilliant and I cannot thank them enough. I even managed to avoid slipping on the station on a heavy gradient where apparently everyone slips, so again my smile was a mile wide! Coming back into Wroclaw, the fairly extended use of the two-tone whistle saw the entire station turn and stare! A quick drink from a hydrant saw the Prairie ready for the final trip. There are three round trips, so you drive on three journeys, or one and a half round trips. An excellent day, on an excellent engine, whose appearance and quality are a true testament to the skill and quality of the Flour Mill boys. After driving a Prairie at 60mph, preserved lines in England don’t half seem slow!

Thursday we decided to have a play at Smeigel, the narrow gauge line. The track is awful, but the crew were brilliant and the loco is delightful, so I would urge anyone who goes to visit Smeigel, even if you are not a NG person. The station, station bar, loco, location and attractive guard all make it worthwhile. The run is quite short, and the pace is very sedate, but the state of the track make it quite trilling! You do a roundtrip each and one participant got off and declined to drive back as the state of the track scared him so much!

On Friday we made up for our half turn on the Wednesday by arriving on shed for our gentleman’s turn again to find not to find the expected Ol, but Pm36, a bright green pacific. Wow, what an experience that was. It was raining and I watched with horror as the Polish crew slipped and slid out of the depot to the station. The cab seemed massive, the boiler was gargantuan, everything seemed preposterously large. The Polish driver, slipped heavily out of the station as the blood continued to drain from my face. The run was difficult. The regulator was stiff, the air brakes didn’t always release properly and on 80% of starts it was a case of constant regulator changes to control slips (although the handle was damn near impossible to move.) Coming back was equally torturous as the rain was now heavy making the light footed beast near impossible for Tim, my buddy for the week, or the polish crews to control. The size of the cab means when you fire, its about quarter of a mile from firing plate to firehole door. As a relative novice the size of the firebox seemed unbelievable. No matter how much I fired, or how quickly, the grate never seemed completely covered. I got back to shed, happy I’d driven a pacific on the mainline but also tired, filthy and aching, and also acutely aware that, while it had been exhilarating, I’d rather have Ol49 69 any day!

Saturday, we bought an extra turn as I wanted one last bash with an Ol49 and I drove back from Poznan with a little extra gusto, knowing it would be a while before I could experience the sheer thrill of being given a loco and told to “GO!”

Sunday, I got the steamer to Poznan before catching a flight home. I resisted the urge to stand by the cockpit door to see if the pilot would let me fly or at least do the landing at Luton.

All in all, I met a really lovely group of people both the English participants and polish crews, got bitten all over by mosquitoes, ate my body weight in sausages, and had a couple of ice cold Tyskie-s and Zwyiec-s in the beautiful weather we had for most of the week. I have fallen asleep nearly every night since to the sound in my head of a Polish engineman shouting “Brake, BRAKE!, Go, Whistle.”

The above has been lightly edited. You’ll find the original article by KHARDS here.

Our 100th post

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Cumulative daily visits each month in April and May

Today’s article is our 100th post. We have now been publishing Behind The Water Tower for three months in its present form as a campaigning blog. (An earlier test version was started a month earlier on another site.) In May we had 3,183 hits which averages out at 100 visits daily.

Rather than bask in out own glory we would like to dedicate today’s post to all the professional men and women who work on our railways and to all the volunteers who work to rescue closed railways and then keep them going. People like Moira Cross.

Moira Cross at Swanage Station (c) Andrew Wright

Moira took part in the original campaign, launched in 1968, to stop the Swanage Railway closing and helped petition the authorities. From 1972, she provided secretarial assistance to the Swanage Railway Society – the pioneers of the project to reopen the Swanage Railway. She was a committee member of the Swanage and Wareham Railway Group – the local resident’s campaigning group – without whose efforts the Society’s efforts would have come to nothing.

When the trains started to run she helped run the railway shop and helped set up the team that ran the refreshment stall. For over 30 years, Moira has been helping the Swanage Railway as an unpaid volunteer. On 6 September, 2002 Moira’s dedication was recognised by the Swanage Railway and Virgin Trains when she was asked to name a Virgin Voyager trainset – the first mainline train to travel down the Swanage line for over thirty years. To Moira, and the hundreds of thousands of men and women, who work our railways, whether as transport links, heritage lines, or both, our grateful thanks.

We hit a ton!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

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One hundred hits – 16.15 today!

At 16:15 local time BTWT registered 100 hits for the first time. Of course, some of these hits will be web spiders, bots and other creepy crawlies, but even so reaching a ton is a nice achievement, bearing in mind that just over a month ago we moved the blog from Tooum.net where BTWT was originally hosted. Our previous best ever was 83 hits where we peaked on 8 March this year when we ran the story Skierniewice Success. I guess quite a few members of the Polish Association of Railway Enthusiasts popped in that day to see what we had written about them! On 11 March we had a mini publishing boom carrying three articles, Tribute to Howard Jones, Last Krzeszowice Engines Saved and The Papal train. Our efforts gained us 58 views.

On 18 March when our feature Oxenholme then and now brought us 55 views. Many of our visitors were Arthur Ransome fans for whom Oxenholme is the model for Strickland Junction in the Swallows and Amazons novel Pigeon Post.

So when we hit 100 visitors earlier today we were very pleased. It showed that our campaign to save the Krosniewice line was bringing in interest from outside our usual readership. But then the viewing statistics kept on rising! By 18.50 we had hit 150 visitors with no sign of a slowdown!

At this point we did a little investigation and discovered that someone had posted a link to our letter writing campaign on the Swiat Kolejek Waskotorowych (The World of Narrow Gauge Railways) discussion group. (WARNING – Polish only site) We read through the thread and were disappointed to see a succession of mostly negative posts from MISERABLE MOANERS! (Yes, that’s you if you haven’t yet written to the Mayor of Krosniewice yet!) So we contacted Andrew Goltz, Anglo-Pole and Swanage Railway founder and asked him to give SKW a good kick up the backside. His efforts brought in even more visitors. By 21.30hrs we had passed the 200 mark.

But the graph was still rising! A further check indicated that we were now getting traffic from a German railway discussion forum. Following the links back we found some beautiful photographs taken on the last day by the German visitors that we had written about on Monday. Just click on the picture below to see the rest of these sad and evocative pictures.

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For some hauntingly beautiful pictures of the last
rites on the Krosniewice Railway click on the picture

Meanwhile the graph kept rising. By the time it reached 253 views it was time for bed. Now if everybody who visited BTWT just gave up 15 minutes and wrote a letter to Mrs Herman, the Mayor of Krosniewice – and then spend a quick 5 minutes forwarding details of this blog to their friends – Dyspozytor and Co. would be very happy bunnies indeed!

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253 hits 01.59 (23.59 GMT) Time for bed, vertical
scale has been adjusted to match the top graph.