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Monday, 29 December 2014

Rail Chaos over Christmas

This is the time of year when the railways do major engineering work, taking advantage of the seasonal shut down.  Costly but necessary.   This year though it went horribly wrong especially for the East Coast route from Kings Cross and the route to the west from Paddington.

The papers are full of recriminations and calls for heads to roll.    The government has announced an inquiry.  I have not seen the terms of reference or the names of the people doing the enquiries but I do hope they are not restricted to the immediate difficulties.

It seems to me that what is needed is a serious strategic look at this country's railway system, so vulnerable to day-to-day disruptions as well as these seasonal problems.   There should be a strong and urgent emphasis on diversionary routes and contingency planning.

Beeching did his report in the sixties and wielded his axe.   It seemed regrettable but inevitable at the time.   Many of Britain's railways were then an extravagance and the very idea or rail transport seemed to be in decline.   The tree needed a severe pruning and got it.   Trouble was, the prunings were burned in huge bonfires of assets, lost and gone for ever in too many cases.

Trouble is, a tree that is so severely pruned either dies or flourishes.   In Britain's case the tree has flourished well beyond the expectations of even the most optimistic sixties gardener.   It is now so laden with fruit (passengers) that its boughs bend and sometimes break.

The response?   Let's build new capacity.   Let it be High Speed too.   It will cost billions but there is multi party support.   Still not sure where it will go but it will turn out fine, you'll see.

But hang on a mo..   Are we making good use of existing capacity?   No, no, emphatically no.   The Victorians were not totally daft.   They recognised that the UK was a bit like an inverted letter T.   To use today's terminology it is portrait in orientation with a landscape portion across the south.   They built one, two, three then four magnificent and costly railway lines south to north.   The last-but-one to be built was the Midland route from London St Pancras to Glasgow and Edinburgh, splitting at Carlisle.

Even Beeching shied away from recommending its closure.

Well, it was spared, neglected, reprieved and now, 25 years on, flourishes beyond anybody's dreams.

As a daily observer of the to-ings and fro-ings on this route I see that it is underused to an alarming degree.   This despite almost daily stoppages or delays on the other two remaining and overcrowded north-south routes.

A recent document from the government funded well intended but impotent Passenger Focus tells us that the reasons that this route is not used for diversions are that
1) (Virgin) west coast drivers are not trained to use it and
2) it is not electrified

Given the serious economic and social consequences of main line rail disruptions it seems obvious that these two stated reasons need to be tackled and the line brought back into immediate use for diversions.   It was one of the key reasons it was not closed.   Both stated problems can be remedied:

1)  Virgin and Trans Pennine Express drivers must be trained for the S&C and that training must be maintained.   All Preston based Virgin drivers were until recently trained for the S&C but someone, somewhere, decided to put a stop to that.   That decision should be reversed immediately and the necessary training put in place.

2)  The route may be electrified one day but that very electrification seems to be the weakness of the other two remaining lines.   Strong east-west winds routinely bring about speed restrictions on the East and West Coast main lines, bring down overhead wires themselves or blow falling trees onto them.   Lines close and bus-fests ensue.   Meanwhile the S&C route remains open and unused, save for occasional Virgin trains being repositioned from the wrong side of the blackage of the day.

This is a shameful neglect of a fit-for-purpose main line that was built at immense cost in money and human lives and which has been entirely renewed and its capacity doubled since its reprieve from closure.

Why is this diversionary route being ignored?   The answer probably lies in the structural fragmentation of todays railway which operates in organisational silos and which seems incapable of thinking outside them.

Somebody near the centre of things needs to get a grip and impose coordination on a system that is at serious risk.   I am not sure who that somebody is.   There seem to be too many candidates, none of whom will grasp this problem.

I suspect that the railway industry simply cannot or will not address it from within.   Back in 1989 when this route was saved from closure it was the politicians of the day who took a brave and, as it turned out, correct decision.   Twenty five years on their successors may need to step in and act.   Decisively.

click to enlarge

The 25th Anniversay Since Reprieve Train pauses at Settle - overlooked by the water tower.   Now let's see some diverted trains when there is trouble elsewhere.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Another Perspective - and Unit E

Here is an interesting picture of the tower from Settle Station's overbridge:
click to enlarge

It shows how the tank's colours stand out in the landscape and the interesting array of verticals nearby - two flagpoles, a telegraph pole and two mobile telephone masts.   If you half close your eyes the roof room disappears.

Of current intest though is the industrial building in front of the tower, with the prominent letter E on its right end.   This is Unit E - quite elegantly shaped as these things go.   It has had mentions earlier in this Blog.

The Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL) are in process of taking on the lease of this large building right by Settle station.   It will provide much needed office space, storage and workshop facilities - all in just the right place.

(Photo credit Rosser1954)

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Shutters in Place

After three days of work the shutters are installed.   The finishing details are to do after Christmas but we are now effectively double glazed throughout.

This is one of our full length windows in the atrium of the tower.   Ten feet tall by 4 feet wide.   Two internal wooden double glazed shutters cover the iron and glass original windows but are hardly visible as the wood is painted matt black:

And below is one of the windows in the living room:

Still to receive its lockable handles and finishing matt black details down the sides and across the top, scribed to the white walls and top stone.   The wooden floorboards will extend right up to the shutters deep inside the window recess, across the metal grille which will support them.   That extra bit of floor will be thickly insulated as the space below is cold, the existing internal double glazing on the ground floor being flush with the internal walls.

Note the winter weather on the outside glass panes.   Already the temperature in the living room is climbing.

In summer the shutters can be opened into the building making them quite invisible and allowing access for window cleaning.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014


Our downstairs rooms, notably the bedroom, have the benefit of internal double glazing to supplement the tower's windows.   So effective are these, we actually have no need to use the underfloor heating in that room.

The main big room on the floor above is quite another matter.   The tower's windows there are effectively radiators in reverse.   They are cast iron frames with 4mm glass.   Even with the underfloor heating now working properly the room does not heat up to a comfortable temperature and needs a boost from the flueless gas fire before it becomes usable on cold winter days.

We did our homework and decided the answer was internal shutters.   To be effective these would need to be air-tight and of high insulation value.   If set back slightly from the tower's original windows and with the intervening space trickle vented from the outside this should, in theory solve the winter condensation problem too.

Wonder of Wood today started fitting these into five windows and will resume tomorrow.   Pictures then.

Just in time for Christmas.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Carols and Ales on Rails

To round off an already enjoyable day there was a Carols and Ale train from Skipton to Ribblehead and back this evening.   We got on at Settle by which time drink had been taken and it showed.   Beer had come courtesy of Settle Brewery.   Port and hot mulled cider (very pleasant) had come from Aldi.

Pat and I went through the train serving mince pies.   Two carol services were taking place at either end of the train, being cheer-led by FoSCL signbal box volunteers and members of the clergy.   Canon Graham Bettridge was at one end and the Rev Dr Neil Kendra was at the other.   Both are characters and good sports.   Here is the Rev Dr Neil Kendra (who has featured on this Blog before):
clicking to enlarge is not recommended
And here is our train at Ribblehead Station, having gone over the viaduct and reversed.

Pickets at Settle Station but No Arrests

Today has been Settle Station's Christmas Open Day.   This year it coincided with two days of strike action by members of the RMT union who work for the trolley service operated by the Settle-Carlisle Railway Development Company.   They set up a picket line at the station entrance.  Not the sort of thing that happens often if ever in Settle.

To emphasise that they were not in dispute with the travelling public these pickets were giving away Christmas cake, mince pies, coffee and sherry.   Certainly not the sort of picketing I was used to in my police service!
 click to enlarge

These were the friendliest pickets ever - and they were effective too.   A surprising number of station users knew of the dispute and sympathised with the pickets.
 Entering in on the spirit of things I flew the RMT flag from the water tower - positioning it carefully to the left, of course.
 In a moment of bonhomie the Union's Area Organiser Craig Johnston signed up as a FoSCL member.   Not just that, he signed up the RMT as Corporate members!
 The choir sang and the band played.
The snow glistened and the sun shone.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Loo With a View

Well, here it is at last - the Loo With a View. 
 click to enlarge
This is the throne in all its glory.   It is supplied with harvested rainwater, pumped up from the underground tank at very high pressure indeed, despite doubts on that score.   There is rainwater supply for pressure-washer cleaning of the decking and windows. 
 The waste from the sink, the shower and the WC all go to a macerator below the WC then away via a 32mm drain pipe.
 The shower is slightly exposed to view so frosting will be applied to the windows.
I am really rather proud of this do-it-yourself effort.   The cloakroom occupies the otherwise wasted space behind the lift.   Tight but every bit as generous as some hotel en-suites.   As pictured, the cloakroom is open to view as part of the roof room landing.   A room divider screen is provided to fill this gap but has been put aside for the picture.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Cloakroom in the tank

Forgive me for the radio silence recently but I have been much occupied in building what the Americans call a cloakroom on the top floor.   This genteel word for a toilet is actually right.

Latin Cloaca

  1. 1.
    a common cavity at the end of the digestive tract for the release of both excretory and genital products in vertebrates (except most mammals) and certain invertebrates.
  2. 2.
    a sewer.

So, it isn't just a place to hang cloaks.   It is more fundamental than that.   It's a bog.

When we planned the roof room we decided that space was precious.   Furthermore, the plumbing advice was that water pressure would be insufficient for lavatorial purposes at the top of the tower.

I remember standing in the skeleton of the roof room at CSi in Hull and thinking to myself that the space behind the lift shaft was wasted and it would be enough for a shower room, toilet etc.

Actual usage of the roof room revealed an irksome deficiency - the lack of a toilet, which necessitated a trip downstairs - or for gentlemen an opportunistic, and exhibitionistic pee over the side.

Well, I have spent some weeks constructing a 'cloakroom' behind the lift and it is is at last finished.   Water pressure concerns have proved unfounded.   It works and I am proud of it.   Pictures tomorrow, if  I can lay hands on the camera.

Prepare to be amazed.