All posts by Danny Scroggins

Panel Restoration Latest

The end of a long several weeks and months for SPS volunteers involved in finalising the panel’s electronics and simulator made some satisfying visual steps forward this weekend, when debugging of wiring and software glitches took place on the east end of the panel.

Although not all bugs have been fixed, a great many have, and the east end of the panel now looks ‘believable’.

Both ends of the panel have worked with the ‘outside world simulator’ independently, and a huge amount of very frustrating computing and programming work has taken place to bring the two ends together to work seamlessly with each other. Very soon we will reach the stage of restoration when a pretend train can travel from one end of the panel to the other!

All this recent work has used a lot of resources – especially computer components. We have been using parts of our collection of a great many donated computers and peripheral equipment, some of which is useful on its own and some has been a useful source of spares. There are some items which we will soon need to purchase, and these can be found on our Amazon Wish List if any supporters are feeling generous! They aren’t very glamorous (mice, extension leads, etc), but they are all required to complete the work.

While the last year has seen a lot of progress, not much has been visual. The next few months will see rapid visual progress, both for the panel and the building. The panel will move into its final position in the early spring, the ceiling and flooring will be completed, and a lot of the tools and equipment in the panel room will move elsewhere (probably upstairs into the loft).

Once the panel is in a working state we will resurrect the list of volunteers interested in demonstrating the panel and holding some training sessions for this. We also hope to hold some Members’ Days in the lead-up to or shortly after the grand opening.

Thank you very much to everyone who has slogged through the last year – especially the solderers! – it has been a long job but we are now going to see the fruits of our labour in a working panel!

Progress at Didcot

Well done to everyone who has been involved in progress at Didcot over the last several months.

A great deal of time and effort has gone into soldering the thousands of connections to tags in the back of the panel – a seemingly never-ending fiddly task that made us glad we hadn’t tried to preserve anything bigger than Swindon!

The west of the panel is pretty comprehensively debugged and has been fully working (to the extent to which the software is programmed).

The east end is not fully debugged yet, as software progress is not as advanced on this end of the panel and it is more difficult to debug the hardware before the software performs reliably.

The volume of computer hardware in the panel has increased significantly over the last few months, with a computer required for each of the east end of the panel, west end of the panel, ‘outside world’ simulator, and train describer. Our collection of second-hand computers has been worked hard, and some patch-and-mend has been required in the short term. Once the final computer requirements are established we will install some decent hardware, but there is little point in doing this until the final requirements are known.

Integrating the hardware and the software has been challenging, especially as we are using the software for an installation far far bigger than anything envisaged when the software was designed (for model railways). Some hurdles have also been encountered because we have written our own code for the program in addition to using code written using the program interface, which has occasionally caught us out when newer versions of the program have been released by the makers.

The completion of the panel simulator is comparable to filling up a swimming pool – in that it fills up widely and slowly until one day it all reaches 100% full. We are at the stage of everything being 95% complete, and everything having been seem to work independently, and all the integration concepts having been proved, and it is now a case of ironing out all the snagging issues of making it all work together!

The original VDUs in the panel have been made to work (which was more tricky than it sounds!) and connected to the TD computer. This emulates the Vaughan Harmon train describer, which Swindon had for approximately its last 20 years. Previous to this there was an LED train describer and previous to that a Sodeco mechanical describer. We also have components available of both of these other types of describer, which we plan to recommission in the future on at least part of the panel.

The work is currently slow, sometimes frustrating, and doesn’t show such as visible progress as our earlier work, however, we will very soon complete this stage and move on to more detailed testing of the panel. Completion of the panel room ceiling is now imminent and very quickly the room will start to come together.

We hope, soon to be able to advertise some members’ days in the leadup to the grand opening in June.

SPS at Warley Show

Don’t forget, SPS will be at Warley Show, Birmingham NEC, 25th & 26th November 2017

We have arranged to have an information stand at this very large model railway exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham.

Of course we’ll need people to staff the stand. No specialist skills are required, simply enthusiasm for your subject!

There will be ample opportunity to look around at the other exhibits, you won’t be chained to the stand!

Further information about the show here:

If you’re interested in helping please contact us via the usual channels.

Thank you,
Tim Miller

Grand Opening Date for Swindon Panel

A date in Swindon Panel’s exciting and sometimes unbelievable journey to preservation that you won’t want to miss!

The grand opening of the new signalling building at Didcot Railway Centre, including the ceremonial opening of Swindon Panel, will take place on 23 June 2018.

We are delighted to confirm that the opening ceremony will be officiated by Francis How, Chief Executive of the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers!

The ceremony will also be accompanied by other special attractions and visitors…. watch this space!

EasyFundraising Extra £1 for SPS

£152.60 has been raised for Swindon Panel in the last few months via EasyFundraising! Well done everyone!

When supporters shop at one of over 3000 online stores, those stores donate money to Swindon Panel, without costing the shopper any more. If you aren’t registered yet, please consider doing so, and using this special link will attract an extra £1 donation for SPS, without costing you anything extra, or, in fact, anything at all!

There are even browser extensions available for Chrome, Firefox, etc, that automatically recognise you’re a supporter so you don’t have to remember to log in before shopping.

Swindon Panel & Friends, Slight Change of Plan!

We are all looking forward to the Swindon Panel & Friends day on 11 March, where we hope to welcome all those with a past connection to Swindon Panel to visit it in its new home (full details).

In response to feedback we have slightly changed the emphasis of the evening from ‘dinner at a restaurant with a bar’ to ‘drinks at a pub that serves food for those who wish to eat’. We hope this meets with your approval, and we hope you will be happy to join us for a drink at The Ladygrove, Didcot (OX11 7SZ) from 6.30pm. We will have a specially-reserved section of the bar/restaurant. Those who wish to may still order food, but there is no expectation to do so.

The panel itself is open from 2pm in Didcot Railway Centre (full details).

Swindon Panel Saturday 4 Feb

The next working day at the panel is Saturday 4 February, where we will continue (and hopefully finish) the threading-in of the 8-core cables that will connect the PCBs to the tag blocks.

Please note that due to a change in DRC policy, the building is without mains electricity at present. This, unfortunately, means no heating is available, so please wear your coat!

2017 Update to Volunteering Documents

Each year we review our documentation for working members. We also renew work permits (red cards) each year.

View the updated documents.

The briefing booklet for volunteers has been considerably updated. It contains all the necessary information required for safe and happy volunteering with Swindon Panel Society and will help ensure your safety and the safety of those around you as much as we can. This applies to all activities undertaken with SPS, not just on the DRC site.

All working members will be given with a copy of this new booklet on the first occasion you volunteer with us in 2017. At the same time we will ask you to complete an acknowledgement/emergency details form and we will renew your red card for 2017. Links are provided here for anyone who wishes to download/read/print at home (printed copies will be at the panel).

We also review the Risk Assessment for the work we do annually, so this has also been updated.

We will be very glad to receive feedback on the Induction Booklet and the Risk Assessment, please let us know if you have comments about how these can be improved or developed.

Thank you for volunteering!

Please Vote for SPS in Galaxy Hot Chocolate Fund!

SPS is taking part in the Galaxy Hot Chocolate Fund this week!

Five small community projects such as ours are awarded gifts of £300 from the Fund each week, and this is our week!

You can vote for SPS any time this week by following the link below. If we finish the week with the highest numbers of votes, Galaxy Chocolate will donate £300!

This donation will be used to further the fitting-out of the building, which still requires a ceiling, flooring, doors and sink!

Please vote, and encourage your friends to vote, for SPS!

The Search is On…

As you will be aware, our Swindon Panel gathering of past and present signalmen and friends is taking place in just under eight weeks (read more details).

We are keen to invite as many former signalmen and staff from Swindon Panel as we can, so if you are in contact with anyone with a connection with Swindon Panel in the past, in any capacity, official or unofficial, please either let us know about their contact details or let them know about the event!

Thank you.

Your chance to be a Signalman

Just in case you had forgotten what we look like, he is the latest photo of Swindon Panel in restoration!

As you can see – all the walls are now plastered and painted in the panel room, and carpet has been laid in the working area behind the panel.

The ceiling cannot be complete yet as, until the panel is placed in its final position (which will be determined by a bit of trial-and-error), we don’t know exactly where the lights in the ceiling will be positioned, which affects the positions of other ceiling equipment such as air conditioning, etc. The moving back into final-position of the panel will also be the time at which it can be removed from its lifting frame.

Wiring of the panel is well advanced. We are nearly complete in wiring the ‘live’ to one side of every switch and button in the panel, re-using as much of the original wiring as possible (and at considerable extra effort!). When this has finished it will be time to start wiring in the 8-core cables from the tag blocks to the PCBs that will interface to the “interlocking”. Exciting times ahead!

It is planned that the first phase of the wiring will be an extension of our existing working section of panel at Wootton Bassett West, extending the control area west to the fringe at Alderton with Bristol PSB, followed by the addition of the main line between Wootton Bassett Jn and the fringes at Box and Thingley.

Your chance to be a signalman…

Of course with this new soon-to-be-working panel, we now need to turn our attention to how we’re going to demonstrate it! It is the moment many of you have been waiting for – we are recruiting signalmen!*

( * And signal-women too of course. As we are re-creating a 1980s panel, the word ‘signaller’ has not been invented in the railway context yet!)

SPS volunteers will work the panel and encourage visitors to have a go. Of course, no real trains will be involved, so it doesn’t matter if any mistakes are made!

Training will be provided to volunteers to make sure that you are comfortable with how the panel works and how to explain the very basics to people, and there will always be several volunteers on duty at the same time, allowing the “work” to be shared and also to allow for breaks etc. (And just because it’s common sense that to look after staff and customers it’s necessary to have more than one member of staff…)

Experience in explaining Swindon Panel to people thus far has enabled us to identify the favourite questions that visitors like to ask (How old is it? When did it close? How many people worked it? Isn’t it all done by computer?) so we are confident it will be easy to equip you with the answers to these favourite questions.

Don’t worry – it won’t be necessary to learn thousands of rules and regulations to volunteer for working the panel – it is not the plan to have major disasters playing out for the public! We will make sure you are aware of the principles of how things work about anything that the public might ask (such as “if a train breaks down, will the one behind crash into it?” and “What happens when there’s leaves on the line?”). The one question we might not be able to answer is “Why is my train always late?”, although I think we might all have our own views on that!

If you have background railway or signalling knowledge you will be most welcome, but even if you don’t have the first clue where to start, don’t let that stop you! What better way is there to learn than in a completely safe, completely fun panel with no time or safety pressure?

Please let us know via any of the usual means if you would be interested in learning more about working the panel. When doing so, please let us know if you have any existing relevant background knowledge as this will enable us to plan, and to make sure you get the help you need, but not the help you don’t!

We look forward to seeing you all in the new year, we have many working days and special events on in the new year, and if you’re still considering your new year’s resolution – Helping for a day at Swindon Panel is an easy one!

Newsletter 15 an Unusually Long Time in Section

Newsletter 15s were posted to silver and gold members on Thursday 15 December, but unfortunately these seem to be subject to confusion and delay as some members have reported that they have taken a long time to arrive or still haven’t arrived.

I’m sorry for this delay, presumably caused by the volume of Christmas post in the system, hopefully all the newsletters will be delivered soon.

If your newsletter still hasn’t arrived by Wednesday 28 December please let us know.

Danny S.

Big Lottery Fund Grant to Swindon Panel

Volunteers are essential to Swindon Panel. Without you we wouldn’t have been able to achieve what we have. In recognition of the importance of its volunteers, we are delighted to announce that the Society has been granted £6,000 by the Big Lottery Fund to help us to develop volunteering!

This will help provide resources to help us to find new volunteers and also make it easier for people to participate. It will also be used to provide skills development for our existing volunteers. Looking ahead, we will soon be guiding visitors round our unique exhibit and need to ensure the maximum educational and enjoyment value – the grant will be useful in developing our presentation skills here too.

Look out for more news on this exciting development in the near future!

Very many thanks to Tim who has lead this process from the very beginning and everyone who has helped along the way!

There remains a lot of work to be done on the physical aspects of the building and the search for funding for this continues…

2017 Calendar Published

[NOTE some further special events have been added to our 2017 calendar since this article was published. View the Activities Calendar for 2017 for the latest details.]

Our Activities Calendar for 2017 has now been published.

We have continued with our pattern of working every other weekend on the panel restoration, additional dates will be added if the volunteer manpower permits.

There are already some ‘dates for your diary’…

Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 January we will be attending the Kidlington Model Railway Show, Exeter Hall, Kidlington.

Saturday 18 February we will be attending the Kenavon Model Railway Show in Reading.

We would be delighted to receive any offers of help with manning the Swindon Panel trade stand at these shows. No special skills are required, it’s all about giving out leaflets, talking to passers-by, and sharing the news of our work. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone! It’s a great opportunity to help Swindon Panel and also visit the rest of the show yourself. Please let us know if you are free on any of those days and available to help out.

Saturday 11 March we are delighted to be hosting a second ‘Swindon Panel & Friends’ Reunion & Dinner, a repeat of our successful gathering event in April 2015. More details….

Saturday 3 June will be our AGM – always a popular opportunity for everyone to catch up and review the year of progress.

There are some other activities we hope to add in soon too – such as a trip to Romsey Signal Box, a very successful signal box preservation project with similar aims to ours which we hope we will be visiting in the spring, and the popular “Work Week” in August.

We hope to see you at Didcot in 2017!

2017 Events

We are starting to plan our 2017 event calendar, and there are already some ‘dates for your diary’ on it!

Saturday 7 and Sunday 8 January we will be attending the Kidlington Model Railway Show, Exeter Hall, Kidlington.

Saturday 18 February we will be attending the Kenavon Model Railway Show in Reading.

We would be delighted to receive any offers of help with manning the Swindon Panel trade stand at these shows. No special skills are required, it’s all about giving out leaflets, talking to passers-by, and sharing the news of our work. Don’t worry, you won’t be alone! It’s a great opportunity to help Swindon Panel and also visit the rest of the show yourself. Please let us know if you are free on any of those days and available to help out.

Saturday 11 March we are delighted to be hosting a second ‘Swindon Panel & Friends’ Reunion & Dinner, a repeat of our successful gathering event in April 2015. More details…