Internal Communication - not for publication
A joint meeting between the Society, Company and Bluebell Railway Trust was held to discuss matters of mutual interest. Absentees were Graham Flight (Company Chairman and Administrative Trustee for the Trust), Paul Churchman (Society Trustee) and Richard Salmon (Society Representative to the Trust).
The meeting started with a brief update of the Woodpax development and attendees were able to have a limited view of the shed and the new museum space in their near completed state. A drawing of the new upper floor above the loco machine shop (to provide new messing facilities and office space) was also circulated.
Chris White gave a presentation on the key Infrastructure issues:
Safety Manager's post: The post was still un-filled as whilst it had been offered to a highly suitable candidate, subsequent changes in his personal circumstances had led him to reconsider. It was hoped that this could be resolved in the near future but as other heritage railways had found, it was a difficult post to fill as it was not considered "sexy".
Track renewals: Current project to relay part of Freshfield Bank going very well. The existing track had been slewed to one side and had being used to removal the old formation and deliver new ballast, sleepers and rail. Mechanisation was now essential for this work as it speeded up the process, avoided manual handling and made maximum use of the limited slots available to close the single line for engineering work. Usable bullhead rail was very difficult to obtain and using secondhand rail was a waste of time and resources. 1 x 60' new bullhead rail costs £700+ against £600+ for flat bottom. With materials, each 60 foot panel cost around £2,700 to relay just for materials. Flat bottom rail was therefore being used on the single line sections so that we could keep bullhead in the station areas. Following on from the success of the welded joints in the tunnel, more joint welding would be done 'out of sight' but in short lengths so that we do not have to manage stressed rails.
Ketches Halt: It was agreed that the redundant halt would be moved to Imberhorne Lane (South), giving potential for passengers to alight and cross under the road bridge to the tip on an occasional basis.
Signalling: Signalling at Horsted Keynes was gradually being reconnected back to the lever frame in stages with the next stage due to happen shortly. In the meantime, 'juice' bonding had been completed at East Grinstead (with an electric unit berthed in the Network Rail siding, (return) voltage can be detected on our track so the joints are bonded to provide a continuous return path back to the sub-station and avoid leakage to earth). Kingscote will need remodelling for trains towards East Grinstead, and Sheffield Park is life expired and needs remodelling and re-signalling.
Spare Footbridge (ex-Mitcham): This bridge had been offered for sale through the Heritage Railway Association but whilst there had been some interest in it, the costs of transportation and repairs were excessive and had deterred purchasers. The structure is badly corroded and so it was agreed that the bridge could be cut up and sold for scrap, except for the end castings which were to be kept.
Rail turning conundrum: The reality of a mainline connection is that incoming engines and support coaches may need to be turned. There had been much talk about a turntable but this was not necessarily the answer. There were few available turntables and length was an issue. The scope for a triangle south of Horsted Keynes was currently being investigated as it was felt that this would be more flexible and would be easier to maintain. Once both options had been fully investigated, the matter would be referred back to Trustees.
East Grinstead: The platform was now complete as currently planned though the water tower was outstanding. CCTV for the site was being installed. We were now waiting to see how the new Southern development would impact on our future needs as this would determine the next steps for our station. In the meantime, the disabled car park and new footpath between the stations could be progressed, once we had reached agreement with Network Rail. The old 17 mile post, which had been recovered from the Up Siding by Network Rail and donated to us, was currently being refurbished.
Northern Extension: It was estimated that so far, the extension had cost around £7m and £2.2m was needed to complete the project. Failure to complete was not an option. The crunch point will be April 2012 when statutory cessation of the landfill tax exemption will increase the removal costs from £25 to £96 per tonne.
Tip Removal: Waste trains would commence again on 21st February for 4 weeks. Removal costs were now £25 per tonne but the operation would now be managed by Bluebell. This would mean that we carried the risk, ie if the loading plant broke down and we lost the train path for that day, we would still have to pay for it. An additional siding had been laid south of the viaduct as part of the change in the way that spoil was loaded. It was planned to dig a longitudinal slice through the tip to get a better idea of what was in it. If the tip make-up was much as before, then there was scope to reduce the amount of material that had to go to landfill with the remainder being recycled.
Western Extension & Ardingly Station: The route through the Ardingly site was now protected via a Section 106 agreement with Hansons parent company. The replacement bridge across Station Approach (aka New Road) was being re-thought and a fresh application showing the bridge in the context of the Western Extension would be submitted in due course. However, ecology issues would take months to resolve.
Funding: Roger Kelly circulated a funding report showing around £670k donated towards the Extension project (including a promised £50k from MSDC which will materialise in the final phase of the project) and around £94k secured towards other projects. There was a request to separate out Trust donations in his report: Roger acknowledged that it was sometimes difficult to remember which hat he was wearing when seeking donations though as Funding Trustee and Director, he had no formal remit from the Trust. It was suggested that it might be useful for the Society to ask the Trust if Roger could attend their meetings. It was felt that there should be more publicity to our fund raising efforts in this crucial final stage. Other than that, the meeting had little to offer in the way of fund raising ideas so as to bridge the funding gap early enough to allow the tip could be removed before the critical deadline. The idea of seeking loans from Society Members, as had been done for other projects in the past, was broached but this was resisted, primarily because these would need to be repaid at some point and this could result in an awkward cash flow situation in the future. By the same token, the company was averse to seeking a loan at this stage so to complete the project: its position remained that it would only seek a business loan, if required, towards the end of the project.
Visiting air-braked trains: The meeting discussed the options for handling visiting air- braked trains with our own steam locomotives when the extension is finally completed. This was relevant now as it would influence current and planned locomotive overhauls. There was a cost implication as modern rolling stock is fitted with distributors instead of triple valves to give the driver improved control of the braking. Thus, even on those already engines fitted with air pumps, a new reservoir would be required so as deliver oil-free air to the distributor as oil will contaminate the crucial rubber diaphragm within the distributor. It would also impact on driver training as they would need to be kept familiar with the operation of air-braked stock. Whilst two of our air-braked Mark 1 carriages are fitted with distributors these would need to be maintained, creating yet another maintenance workload requiring competence in dealing with air-braked stock. There would also be a need to ensure that there was always at least one air-braked locomotive available so as to deal with visiting trains, particularly if the visiting train had to be split so as to fit into our stations. The meeting was not convinced that the demand from incoming passenger trains would be sufficiently great as to justify the costs, maintenance and training requirements of dealing with them in this way. Incoming trains could work under their own power to either Kingscote or Horsted Keynes and passengers then transferred to our trains for the duration of their visit. This would also give time for the incoming train to be serviced.
Volunteering: The Committee discussed a letter from a member who had joined the Society with the aim of becoming a volunteer. Having made initial contact with the manager of his preferred department, his subsequent dealings with other paid staff was less than complementary to the railway and after various communication problems and abortive trips to the railway, the member decided not to bother. This was a sorry saga and a poor reflection on the railway and the Committee hoped it was an isolated incident. There are established procedures in place for recruiting new volunteers through the monthly "Find out More" days, though people can go direct to Departmental Managers if they have a strong desire to work in one particular department, as was the case in this instance. However, they still need to be routed through the Volunteer Recruitment Team so that the personnel forms can be completed and processed. Neil Glaskin is investigating and checking to see if our processes need refining and in the meantime, the Chairman and Director concerned will contact the member concerned to see what else we could learn from his experience. The Volunteer Recruitment team are planning to do a presentation to the Society Committee in March.
Next Meeting: The next meeting will be on Friday 18th March.
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