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Operating News February 2014

Operating News February 2014

Operating News February 2014 2000 1534 Isle of Wight Steam Railway

The published timetable for October called for passenger services on every Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday. Services also operated on Saturday 5 October (the first day of our Autumn Steam Weekend which replaced the planned Gala event) and throughout the half-term holiday week which commenced on Monday 28 October. From an operating perspective, the Autumn Steam Weekend was covered in IRN No 60.

On Sunday 27 October, in the hours that preceded the hurricane force winds that cut a swathe across southern England, a loss of mains power to the site at Havenstreet, followed almost immediately by the failure of the emergency back-up supply to the signal box, necessitated the implementation of pilotman working after the signalman was unable to withdraw the single line tokens from their respective instruments.

Essentially, a pilotman is a ‘human token’, signing the train register book prior to each departure and again after arrival back at Havenstreet. The pilotman travels on the locomotive footplate, his authority being displayed by the wearing of a red armband above the left elbow. Without the token, the pilotman’s other role is to disarrange the locking at the ground frame at the end of the line to allow the safe run round of the locomotive and then to securely padlock the frame to prevent its unauthorised use.

Back-up power was later restored to the signal box by means of a generator, thus restoring the functionality of the track circuits and electrical interlocking. However, our operating rules state that if the locking within a signal box or ground frame is disarranged, only S&T technicians are authorised to restore and test the locking prior to the resumption of normal service. With our S&T colleagues engaged in other pressing work it was agreed that pilotman working would remain in place for the reminder of the day.

The storm, named ‘St. Jude’, the patron saint of lost causes, passed through overnight, with a maximum wind speed of 99MPH being recorded at The Needles. With trains scheduled to operate on what was the first day of our Wizard Week, a full line inspection was undertaken prior to the commencement of services. The opportunity was also taken to restore and test the ground frame locking at both Smallbrook Junction and Wootton. The Smallbrook section was obstructed in four locations by fallen trees and boughs, but these were quickly cleared and published services commenced after a delay of only 10 minutes.

On the Ryde-Shanklin line, a falling tree brought down power cables resulting in the suspension of all Island Line services until early-evening on Monday 28 October. A consequence was that an emergency exercise, due to have been staged on the same evening in Ryde Tunnel and in which several of our own staff and volunteers were to have been involved, was postponed.

Wizard Week services operated daily from Monday 28 October until Friday 1 November inclusive, with a two train service on both the Wednesday and Thursday. A new feature this year was the construction of ‘Havenstreet Manor’. Looking remarkably similar to our marquee from the outside (!), ‘Havenstreet Manor’ was the brainchild of our friends at Haven Falconry who have previously constructed the Spooky Maze. During the week our visitors were treated to the sight of various hideous and grotesque characters – and that was just the operating staff wearing their normal attire!

In a departure from previous years, it was decided to rest the train operation previously provided primarily to service the ‘Tinsel & Turkey’ products operated by coach tour companies during November. Nevertheless, a two-train service was operated on both Saturday 9 and Sunday 10 November. Marketed as ‘Hayling Billy 50’, the event marked the 50th anniversary of the closure of the Havant to Hayling Island branch line, a route on which our own two ‘Terrier’ locomotives once worked. The weather over the two days was at opposite ends of the spectrum, with almost-incessant rain on the Saturday whilst the Sunday remained sunny but cold throughout the day.

An interesting two-train timetable was in operation, which included double-heading and one service being ‘top and tailed’. W24 Calbourne and W8 Freshwater were in steam for the event. The bogie set comprised LBSCR Third 2403, Brake Third 4168 and PLV S1046. The second train comprised the six four-wheeled carriages.

Disappointingly, however, the event failed to attract visitors in great volume. The guards’ journals for the Saturday recorded 169 passenger journeys whilst the total for the Sunday was only marginally better, at 185. It is likely that the ongoing delay to the re-entry into service of A1/x Class No 11 Newport contributed to the lower-than-forecast attendance.

On Remembrance Sunday 10 November, passengers were invited to join volunteers and staff in observing a two minute silence.

Practical refresher training sessions for guards and shunters continued during the closing months of the year and further training is being planned for the early part of 2014 to improve competency in respect of operating the Railway after dark. This will include guards, shunters, signalman, drivers and firemen/secondmen. The number of occasions when passenger trains are run during the hours of darkness is increasing and there will certainly be a need to shunt rolling stock into Train Story (the new name for Changing Trains) after dark from 2014 onwards, especially during the Santa Specials season.

Whilst on the subject of Train Story, history was made at Havenstreet on Monday 11 November when for the first time on a non-operating day both platform roads at Havenstreet were devoid of rolling stock. This was because the bogie set was shunted into ‘TS-R1’, or ‘Train Story – Road 1’, which is the lean-to road. The nomenclature for the tracks within Train Story is numeric from left to right as viewed from the throat. Roads 2 and 3 serve the half of the building containing the platform and Roads 4 and 5 the half of the building with the ground level walkway. Road 6 gives access to the new Civil Engineers’ depot.

Santa Specials started on Saturday 7 December. We operated published services on a total of nine days, culminating with those on Christmas Eve. The working timetable called for four full round trips of the line plus an additional lunchtime service on both Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 December. The rostered locomotive for the December services was Hunslet ‘Austerity’ No.192 Waggoner and, until Christmas Eve, the passenger set comprised the four Brighton bogie carriages plus Ventnor West Set 484 on the country end. Once again, in addition to the published passenger services, the ‘North Pole Shuttle’ was in operation, shuttling back and forth between the headshunt and the platform loops, ferrying gifts for onward conveyance by the elves to Santa Claus in his grotto. The North Pole Shuttle services comprised BR 20T Ballast Plough Brake Van No DB993853 and PLV S1046 which was coupled to Andrew Barclay 0-6-0T, W38 Ajax. On Sunday 8 December the North Pole Shuttle undertook a full round trip of the line under a cloudless sky and the same consist made another jaunt to both ends of the line on Saturday 14 December.

Operating Manager Alan Doe, seeks shelter from the cold, wet December weather on Ajax’s footplate.

Towards the end of services on Saturday 14 December a telephone call was received from a passenger waiting for an Island Line train at Smallbrook Junction. It seemed that the electric service had not arrived as expected. A telephone call from the signalman at Havenstreet to his counterpart at Ryde St. John’s Road ‘box brought the news that an electric unit had failed on the Smallbrook Junction-Sandown single line, resulting in a service suspension that might extend for a couple of hours. Although Waggoner was already on shed, her fire had not yet been dropped and arrangements were hastily made to light her lamps and re-attach the ‘Austerity’ to the train. An empty coaching stock (ECS) working left Havenstreet at 16:15 and 12 minutes later arrived at Smallbrook Junction where some 44 passengers re-joined our train. By now completely dark, the train departed Smallbrook at 16:38 and arrived back at Havenstreet at 16:50, where a fleet of minibus taxis was waiting to return the hapless passengers to Ryde Esplanade. The incident has, once again, highlighted the need to provide carriage lighting and platform lighting at Smallbrook. It also demonstrates a need for better communication between Island Line and the IoWSR under such circumstances.

On Tuesday 17 December we operated a steam hauled service for the benefit of some local managers from British Telecom. BT is generously supporting a project to reinstate a telegraph pole run along the length of our Railway and a large consignment of materials has already been donated, including redundant telegraph poles, insulators and wire, together with some tools. Ventnor West Set 484 was used for the occasion and was hauled by Waggoner.

Evening services planned for Saturday 21 December were cancelled due to concerns regarding the financial viability of the associated dining event that was to have taken place in the Calbourne Room.

More stormy weather hit the south of England on Monday 23 December and our services were not unaffected. As the final Up departure from Havenstreet (at 14:55) was near Calloways crossing, the train and a tree branch came into contact. At the time of writing the circumstances of the incident are still being investigated, but the blow caused nine quarter-lights and one droplight to break on the south side of both LBSCR Third 2416 and Composite 6349. Regrettably, a number of passengers suffered injuries caused by flying shards of glass. Using ladders from the brake van passengers travelling in the affected compartments were detrained and transferred into undamaged accommodation. First aid was rendered as appropriate. As to be expected on a ‘Santa Special’, there were a number of young children on board who were understandably distressed by the incident. Attention then turned to removing the tree branches using tools stored in the guards’ emergency cabinet, after which the carriages were assessed to ensure that they were safe to move. Unfortunately, some passengers made the decision to evacuate themselves by walking off along the line in the direction of Ashey Road bridge (known as Long Arch, located near the Ponda Rosa).

As soon as Guard Robin Lennox first reported the incident to the signalman at Havenstreet by ‘phone, our emergency procedure was implemented. An incident officer was appointed and a log created detailing the actions that were taken and at what time. Those involved were grateful for the various table-top and simulated exercises that have taken place at the Railway during the last few years. A sense of calm professionalism prevailed, as volunteers and staff demonstrated a focused determination to bring the incident to a satisfactory conclusion.

When a call was received from the train crew confirming that the carriages were safe to move, authorisation was given for the train to resume its journey to Smallbrook Junction, where passengers making onward connections alighted. Some of these passengers had suffered minor cuts but after giving their contact details all elected to continue their journey, although those destined for the mainland faced further travel disruption because both hovercraft and catamaran services across the Solent had been suspended due to the weather.

A team was dispatched from Havenstreet in an attempt to locate those who had left the incident scene on foot along the line, whilst a minibus taxi was sent to the Ponda Rosa in order that these passengers could be ferried back to Havenstreet. With persons possibly on the line the train was authorised to return to Havenstreet under caution. Knowing that some injured passengers were returning to Havenstreet paramedics were already at the station to meet the train, which arrived back well after nightfall. The 15:28 Down service to Wootton and the corresponding 15:42 Up departure from Wootton to Havenstreet were both cancelled.

The paramedic team attended two passengers who required assistance and one child was ultimately transferred to St Mary’s Hospital in Newport as a precaution. Uninjured passengers were invited into the Refreshment Rooms and, despite his busy schedule, Santa Claus was able to stay late and see those children who had not visited the Winter Wonderland and Grotto prior to their train journey.

In view of the cause, there was a sense of irony as a ‘phone call was made to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch! However, the RAIB officer confirmed that the incident was not reportable and only need be notified on our monthly return.

The stormy weather continued overnight and so arrangements were made to undertake a full line inspection before the commencement our Christmas Eve services. This was a wise precaution because heavy rainfall had resulted in a minor ballast washout near Ashey Grounds. Fortunately, there were no obstructions on the Wootton section which meant that a shuttle service between Havenstreet and Wootton only was implemented until the permanent way at Ashey Grounds was restored and full line services resumed with the 12:50 departure to Smallbrook. Island Line suffered serious flooding in Ryde Tunnel and a series of washouts between Ryde St. John’s Road and Smallbrook Junction resulting in full-line suspension of its services. On a positive note, despite limited access to Havenstreet, visitor numbers on Christmas Eve were good with 1,186 passenger journeys recorded.

Damaged carriages 2416 and 6349 were both shunted into the protection of Train Story on Christmas Eve morning and were replaced by four-wheeled carriages 2343, 2515 and 6378. The same formation remained in place for our traditional ‘Mince Pie Specials’ on Boxing Day, by which time the weather was more benign and 825 passenger journeys were recorded.

The New Year dawned with more stormy weather which affected our ‘Hangover Specials’ on 1 January, both in terms of passenger numbers and train services, which ran under caution throughout the day. Indeed, the 12:09 Down departure from Smallbrook was stopped near Deacon’s Lane Bridge because of a fallen tree but the obstruction was cleared and the train continued, albeit about 20 minutes late. The guard’s journals for the day recorded a total of 364 (compared with 573 for New Year’s Day in 2013).

There is no doubt that some days during the final month of 2013 were challenging from an operational perspective but, without exception, our volunteers and staff reacted very well under some difficult circumstances and they deserve our warmest appreciation.

Traffic figures

The monthly traffic figures for Quarter 4 are shown in the following table.

2013 2012
No. of operating days Passenger journeys Avg. no. of passenger journeys per operating day No. of operating days Passenger journeys Avg. no. of passenger journeys per operating day Passenger journeys percentage variance
Oct 17 8,099 476 16 5,963 373 0.358
Nov 3 785 262 10 1,380 138 -43.10%
Dec 10 5,805 581 9 4,705 523 0.234
Total 30 14,689 490 35 12,048 344 0.219
Full Year 195 105,615 542 209 103,730 496 0.018

Traffic data refers only published services. Passenger journey data on days when the Railway is operating solely in connection with private charters is excluded.

Photos Copyright J.C.H.Faulkner and John Goss