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Best Work Trip Ever – Signals and a Sad Reprise

Following the tragic events in Sri Lanka recently, I pondered whether I would complete the intended final post of the series I had in mind.  I have concluded that I would primarily because the experience that I had of Sri Lanka and its people was so friendly and felt so safe.  So this post is my small bit of illustrating that Sri Lanka is not the country that was illustrated by the acts of a few deranged members of the population.

One of the joys of Sri Lanka’s railways is the retention of widespread railway relics from times past – in particular the signalling.  Whilst there are modernised sections, substantial sections are still firmly in the first half of last century with full semaphore signals, tablets and block sections.  Although a few arms have been removed, the bulk of the installations are still in situ and largely in use; so it is a bit of a cornucopia of signalling.  Here are a few of the signals that I saw:

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The signalling that I saw was all Saxby and Farmer – I only saw a couple of the lines in the country so it may be that there are other suppliers in evidence.  The ground signals were quite similar to the McKenzie & Holland equivalents and tended to come in batches – looking like sentinels from an episode of Dr Who!

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I thought the signal boxes looked decidedly home counties, although the rather shocking salmon pink wouldn’t have been found in Hertfordshire or Surrey I hazard!

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With the exception of the signalman’s attire, the inside of the signal box was instantly recognisable to any UK railwayman of the last century of a half (well perhaps any UK railwayman of the last 40 years would be surprised to see so few white levers………).

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This is the inside of Kandy’s signal box.  Kandy is largely a terminus with the line from the Highlands and Columbo meeting here, along with a branch.  With five platform faces and only moderate amounts of sidings, it struck me as a perfect modelling track plan if anyone wants to have a go!  Here is the view from the steps of the box, along with the signalling diagram.

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The approach to Kandy was in the process of being doubled when I visited, so I suspect that it will be resignalled with colour lights when this is done – so you had best get there soon if you want to see it like this………….

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Best Work Trip Ever – now in the Hill Country

With plenty of justification, the most well known line in Sri Lanka is up into the hill country – from Kandy to either Elle or Badulla.   The line was constructed during the colonial era to reach what was then Sri Lanka’s most important economic asset, tea.  The hill country being famous for tea plantations – and there really are a lot of them!  The views below genuinely representative of long stretches of the line.

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The line twists and winds through the hills often crossing from one side of the hill side to the other through a large number of tunnels.  At one portion, the line really was travelling along the top of a mountain ridge with steep slopes falling away to both sides.

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Sometimes tea pickets were visible and so too were tea factories, such as these ones.

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There was a fairly significant amount of traffic on the line; we crossed or overtook around seven trains.  Some were headed by relatively modern sets such as the class S12 multiple unit set built in China that is in the video at the base of the post but there were also much older diesel units such as this class M5 dating from 1979 (and far from the oldest loco’s on the island!).

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Besides the stunning scenery, probably the biggest thrill is the rather old fashioned (to a westerner anyway) attitude to riding on the trains.  Getting the best view of the line by literally hanging on like this was quite normal and I did it for hours.  Doing that in the UK would quite quickly get me a visit from the British Transport Police and a potentially a bit of a write up in the local paper!

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Obviously, being in south asia, rules are largely there for breaking such as not bothering with the footbridge (or indeed road home).  This lot were getting the station staff quite agitated, the reason being a train was already visible in the near distance!

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Sri Lankan railway staff are clearly very proud of their railway; the fella below was not unrepresentative of the station masters that lined every station – very dapper!

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The hill country is relatively cool (being why the colonials decamped there in the summer months) but the line drops significantly by the time it reaches Kandy.  So much so, tea plantations give way to paddy fields and farm land – all still very lush, Sri Lanka being an island is notably more green than, say, nearby India.

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The train journey is hardly fast = my journey (from Elle to Kandy, so not quite the end of the line) took seven and a half hours which is about twice the duration of the equivalent bus journey.  But then, I would not have experienced one of the best train rides I have even had and all that for a heady £1.40 – plus I could have halved the cost if I had gone third class!

The modern DMUs are not nearly as exciting as the proper diesels (which do still appear on some trains, notably the overnight sleeper) and I wonder what it was like in the steam era?

Best Work Gig Ever!

My working life involves visiting a fair amount of buildings across the UK.  Typically these are fairly ordinary office blocks or distribution centres but sometimes something a bit more exotic comes along.  I have just returned from the most exotic inspection that my career has yet presented – Colombo in Sri Lanka.

And obviously, if I am going to go to such a distant destination, it would be rude not to explore the country’s railways; especially as I was well aware that Sri Lanka’s railways are fabulous………….

Sri Lanka is not a small country; it has an area a touch less than Ireland’s but a population of nearly 22 million.  Colombo is the largest city on the island by a margin but the remainder of the population is rather more dispersed than most countries; which means communications around the island are of some important.  The bulk of the railways are centred on Colombo and originate from  Colombo Fort; not perhaps as exotic as many Indian sub-continent’s stations but it was definitely a very bustling place!

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As befits the principal station, most of the country’s locomotives and multiple unit sets can be seen at Colombo Fort.   These have been accumulated from a variety of sources; these originate from 1968 (but have been rebuilt) from Henschel and is a diesel hydraulic.

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These are much more recent, being built in 2000 by Alstom.

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More short distance services were generally formed of multiple units, such as these Hyundai units from 1991.

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And these class S10 from CSR in China.

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My first journey was down the coast to Galle and then Matara.  Portions of the trip were absolutely next to the Indian Ocean and one of the thrills of trains on the sub-continent for us in the the safety cossetted west is that there are a rather wider number of places to take in the view…………..

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The rest of the journey is a short distance in from the coast through the jungle and fields.

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Galle is a terminus station and as most of the trains proceed onwards, they have to tun around and reverse their direction; in this case behind a class M10 which are relatively recent being built in 2012 by the Diesel Locomotive Works in the USA.

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There are local services (although the expresses stopped at the majority of the services, so the concept is relative!), here one is being prepared by a class Y shunter from Hunslet in the UK and then in the bay behind a class M7.

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The present end of the line is at Matara, but the Sri Lankan government are in the process of extending the line a further 70km to Hambantota – maybe I’ll have to come back!

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And to conclude this post, here are a couple of videos from this part of the trip.  The first is of the train departing Aluthgama:

And the second one is the departure of the same train from Galle:

…………and the best bit of the journey was still to come……….

 

My Home Town and its Model Shops

There is a well known phrase in this hobby which points out that if you want to make a small fortune out of model railways, it pays to start with a large one……….  As I doubt that many proprietors of model shops even start with a large fortune, it is perhaps not all that surprising, in this modern era of the internet, that model shops are becoming more rare in most places.

For many years in my home town, Guildford in Surrey, there was an independent model shop.  A fair amount of my money passed over this counter and I dare say the odd birthday or Christmas present idea germinated within its walls.  Even after I left the area for the fleshpots of university and then the big smog to start my career, the model shop continued to operate even it was taken over by one of the chains.  However, it must been almost twenty years since this closed down and quite a big area was left bereft of somewhere to buy bits or the latest ready to run offerings.  

I was thus pleased to pick up from Graham Muz’s blog that in at least this location, there is to be a reversal of this trend.   A well known and vigorous model shop – Kernow Model Rail Centre – is venturing forward to open their second branch in Guildford.  Although I no longer live in close proximity, Guildford is only 45 minutes away and I will definitely seek to offer my support and get a tad of retail therapy before long after they open.

In a further twist to make this news even more personal to me, the shop will open in what is presently Guildford’s independent bicycle shop – Pedal Pushers.  My other principal hobby when I lived in Guildford was cycling and this was my shop of choice; so many more pennies crossed this counter.  Whilst I think this means that the bike shop is closing, there is a certain symmetry to Kernow’s taking on of the shop.

I wish them well and I do hope that it proves successful for them.

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Its only a hobby………..

Although I try to model at a good standard, I do try and keep it in perspective and it does frustrate me when others don’t.  You particularly see this on the forums but the converse of this is that I have picked up many good tips from these same forums and, occasionally, they make me chuckle.

Whilst watching a film over the Christmas break, I was a reminded of one of these, a wonderful send up of those that can’t quite see that we are only, ultimately, playing with toy trains!  So as a little reminder not to take ourselves too seriously, I thought I would share it – click here,

There will be some followers of this blog that are not close enough to the specifics to understand the references in this video.  So for those that don’t P4 is the true scale version of 4mm modelling and EM is a compromise to make it a little easier to model.  The Model Railway Journal is the magazine of choice for the finescale modeller and in this particular issue there is an article (by a follower of this blog) about using the compromise on the true scale gauge.  This should give you enough to understand the video.

Happy modelling all in 2019 (and the tiny bit of 2018 that is left!) and something more serious to follow soon!

Rannoch Moor

Railway Cranes – Volume 3

I am pleased to announce the forthcoming publication of volume 3 of my father’s series on railway cranes. This will be available from mid September and on the 23/24 September it will be formally launched at Scaleforum with my father in attendance if you want to speak to him.  This will be on the Crecy book stand along with a selection of their books (including volume 1 if you haven’t got this, volume is out of print at present).

For this volume we move away from breakdown cranes to permanent way cranes. This is a big topic and has even less standardisation than breakdown cranes (and there ain’t much in that!). Thus the book is not intended to be a comprehensive review of all such cranes but rather more a review of the main types and development of them.

The book covers from the relatively early days (given the scarcity of material on early cranes, this is a slightly relative concept) upto the contemporary Kirov cranes.

If you can’t make it to Scaleforum, then it can be ordered via your preferred bookseller or direct from Crecy http://www.crecy.co.uk/railway-cranes-3.

The one book in the series that is still to be done is one of cranes mounted on engines. My father does not feel that he knows enough to write this one so if there are any that feel that they (or collectively) know sufficient, I know a publisher that would be interested………….. (PS this is not a mikey take, it would be great to finish the story!).

Holland, no seriously……..

After Oly’s somewhat mischievous description of our trip to the Rail 2018 Modelspoor in Utrecht, I thought it might be worth taking a slightly more serious look at some of the layouts that will be unknown to most of the readers of this blog.  Thus, even though there were some fine UK based layouts, I won’t include pictures of these as I am presuming more will be familiar with them (and if you are not, get out there and visit them at a show!).

First up was a model of Montherme station in N gauge.  The real station is in the Ardennes and the railway really does come out of a tunnel, through a small station, across a river and back into another tunnel.  The builders have used N gauge to its full effect, the hillsides rise up 3 feet (although this does make the layout excessively low) and it is very much a layout in a landscape which I like.  It is based in northern France and the operators are very friendly, so if there are any brave show managers in the UK it could be realistically invited.

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Regrettably I did not get the name of the following layout and ordinarily I don’t particularly like the steelworks/chemical works type of layouts as I find they are a bit contrived and consequently fake.  However, I thought this one was a rather nice example and when you homed in on the detail, rather than let yourself get overwhelmed by the whole there were some really nice touches to it.

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The next layout was a very fine rendition of a small Dutch village scene with a tram running through it.  It was called Halt Tombroekstadt and whilst perhaps a little too neat, it was wonderfully modelled with lots of careful observations.  It was automated and this could be worked on as the tram was either one or off!

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Last up was my favourite – a layout called Pocahontas Mining Co built by a group from Dusseldorf.  It was huge by most people’s standards and this enabled them to get full length coal trains on it without this looking silly – on occasions they had a double headed Norfolk & Western mallet with a similar banker at the back and that really was impressive to watch.  You could imagine the houses in the foreground literally shaking on their foundations as a the whole train trundled by,

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A few years back, I harboured desires to do something Canadian Pacific and regularly used to peruse Model Railroader.  Pocahontas Mining reminded me of a number of the big basement layouts that so many Americans seemed to have – boy was I envious (indeed I still am!).

The layout had a number of great examples of modelling, just capturing the mundane and reminded me lots of O Winston Link’s photographs.

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There were other very good layouts at the show but being one operator down and suffering from the tendency of my operators to either take the sit back form of management or engage any willing recipient into an in depth analysis of Scottish geography, there wasn’t time to photograph them all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oly’s Holland

I am not quite sure why I am reblogging this given the grief I get within it but here is a not quite complete story of our trip to Holland with both Portchullin and Six Quarters………….

All that needs adding to the story is to add that the last we saw of Oly at the end of the weekend was his very worried face as he was in the Customs Shed at Dover whilst surrounded by several large burly men putting on rubber gloves in the search for HO scale contraband and assuring him that it would not hurt a bit…………

The Model Railways of Oly Turner and Chris Matthews

It all started with sound logic. The plan made perfect sense, Mark Tatlow had been invited to “Rail 2018” in Utrecht, Holland. Mark has always, religiously, hired a van around 10 times larger than required. This van was usually a classic long wheel base Sprinter, in which Portchullin had received many a war wound on the motorways of Great Britain by being allowed to slide around freely in the rear while the vehicle was driven like it had been stolen by a middle class mad man from Sussex.

Portchullin requires around 5 operators, 1 to operate and 4 to spend the weekend fixing it, so to make the proposition of 5 of us on the beer in Holland more appealing the spare space in the van would be taken up by SQ. So a sort of free layout for the exhibition manager.

That was where all logic ended.

The first…

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Going Dutch – Two for the Price of One!

Portchullin’s next exhibition may not be the furthest it has travelled but it will definitely be a first for the layout and indeed myself – an exhibition on the continent.  In this case Modelspoor 2018 which takes place on the 23 – 25 February in the Euroteco Centre, Houten, near Utrecht in the Netherlands.

To the Anglo-Saxons amongst us, do not be put off by the website being written in Dutch.  Basically almost everyone in the Netherlands speaks good English (embarrassingly perfect English typically) and it is a really easy country to travel around, engage with people and see what they have to offer.  Although I have not been to Modelspoor before I have heard a lot about it – think Warley * 3 seems to be the gist of it (which may be a bit much in truth!).  However, it has a core of “finescale” from across Europe to which I was very flattered to be invited and I hear is worth seeing in any case.

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And of seeing Portchullin is a sufficient excuse to high-tail it over to Holland, coming in the van will also be Oly’s Six Quarters layout.  In contrast to the fresh air of the west of Scotland, Six Quarters has air laced with Cumbrian coal dust and grime!

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There are a number of other very good layouts there, including Jerry Clifford’s Highclere Colliery (under a new name I hear) and Gordon Gravett’s Arun Quay.  Se even if you don’t fancy Portchullin or Six Quarters much (shame on you), it is still worth a visit.

So if anyone that reads this blog (well, either of you!) is over in Holland in a couple of weeks time, do pop over and say hello!

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The Far North – Let it Snow!

With portions of the country suffering from a bit too much of the white stuff of late and with some trains embedded in both snow and mud blockages, I thought it might be fun to look back at the problems that snow caused one part of the Highland Railway’s system in the past.

Even though it was not as high as many other parts of the Highland’s system, its northerly position and exposure to winds makes the Far North line prone to drifting snow; especially where the line rises across the flow country between Forsinard and Scotscalder.  This has long been a sore to the Highland Railway and there are a number of fine photographs of snow ploughs in action.  Here are a few of them.

Believed to be near Scotscalder Station; what looks like a Barney in the rear and a Medium Goods to the middle – there is a further loco lost behind the plume of snow!  Photo courtesy of the GNSRA.

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Potentially the same train with a pair of Medium Goods and a Barney look to have a lot of trouble with a significant drift at the County March Summit (a bit to the south of Altnabreac).  You can see plenty of evidence that the ploughs could not clear the line on their own in the top photograph – note the sides to the “cutting” have lots of shovel sized depressions.

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And proof that a lot of digging was required!  Both photographs are the NRM’s.

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Snow is still a big problem in these lines; in the mid 1970’s a full train was stuck for a couple of days and needed to be supplied from the air (if anyone has any pictures of this I could use, could you let me know?).

The picture below was taken in 2010 where some DRS class 37’s had obviously been hard at work.  Photo from Outpost North RSPB.

From Outpost North RSPB

And after the exertions of clearing the line, this Barney looks as if it needs some attention if only to remove the snow.  Remember, this will have been in steam yet is still has snow on its boiler!  Photo of a Barney at Helmsdale from the HRS.

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All of the ploughs shown in the HR era are of the medium size.  There was a bigger one which begs the question of what size drifts were these used on?!?!?

 

 

 

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