Monthly Archives: November 2014

SPS gives Santa a Helping Hand!

By Tim Miller:

A tiring but very satisfying and enjoyable day!

Today we (Tim, Mark and Natalie) were elves outside Santa’s grotto at the first of Didcot Railway Centre’s Santa weekends of this year! There were two carriages parked in the transfer shed, back to back, for Santa’s grottos.

Our job was to chat to the parents and children and find out how many boys, how many girls and ages. Most children were 2/3/4 years old. We then passed that info to another of Santa’s helpers, (SPS supporter, Harrison!) within the grotto so he could help Santa to select the appropriate presents.

Then, when the previous people had come out we ushered in the next group. We began just after 10 and finished around 3.30. Lots and lots of people! We had a welcomed break in the middle.

The trains delivered 50 people to the transfer shed every 15 minutes. They were directed them to one coach or the other, depending on how many people were still in the carriage. We managed to empty most of the carriage – thankfully.

Fun and very valued by the Railway Centre. It could have been improved if there had been more of us, to enable more frequent breaks and to help usher people around.

Thank you very much to those who joined in and helped.

Swindon Panel Society is helping Didcot Railway Centre in the delivery of its Santa events throughout December, particularly on the Swindon Panel Days on 6th and 21st December. These events realise a significant proportion of the Railway Centre’s annual income, so are to the benefit of all involved in the Centre, including SPS.

For more information about Didcot Railway Centre’s Santa events please see their website. If you can spare a day to help out then please contact us and let us (or them) know!

(Photo: Didcot Railway Centre)

Operations Groups – Week 2

The Operations Groups meet on Monday and Tuesday nights (there are two of them) to formulate the plans for the re-creation of the panel from a signalling point of view (as opposed to a physical structure point of view). The Monday group concentrates on the west end and the Tuesday group on the east end.

This week, on Monday, the area from Thingley Crossovers to Corsham was covered, with some interesting notes:

– Lots of discussion and inconsistency in the sources regarding the route lettering from SN72 and SN672. Eventually settled on A route to the Down Main, B route to 286 GPL and C route to the Up Main B202. (It was the B and C routes that were in doubt).

– As we are nominally modelling the mid-1980s, the Melksham line fringe will be to Bradford Junction, with token machines at Chippenham and SN74. Discussed and agreed that (unless we find evidence to the contrary), no indication would have been given to the Swindon signalman that a release had been obtained on SN74 when a token was withdrawn at Chippenham, based on similar installations at Maidenhead (Slough) and Kennington (Oxford). If a train left Chippenham and arrived at SN74 and the signal did not clear, there was a token machine there through with the token could be recycled.

– SN25 / SN125 shown in some sources as on single posts, but early sources show and overall gantry and an overall gantry exists now. Suspect being shown as single posts in between is an error as unlikely to have been changed then changed back. SN25R and SN125R are separate posts, so it may have been confusion with this. Although, suspiciously, the panel fascia shows it being on the right hand side, which it doesn’t for any of the other reversible or gantry-mounted signals (although 125 / 125R is a much later addition to the rest and is “SIMBIDS”, not full Reversible).

– SN25R / SN125R. These definitely are on separate posts, no doubt about that. On one source SN25R is shown as a three-aspect head with the red OOU. unable to find any reason for this other than it was provided ‘just in case’, WR having just gone through a capacity enhancement scheme between Wootton Bassett and Chippenham and Hullavington breaking sections and adding in aspects, maybe they thought they’d one day do the same between Thingley and Bathampton.

– DM97 is a three-aspect head with no yellow. This may be for the same ‘possible future use’ reason as above. There may have been a thought to make the next signal, DM101R into a stop signal. DM97 is also mounted on a cantilever structure, as if a signal for down direction moves on the Up Main was planned. (Possibly a plan to provide non-block emergency signals for Box Tunnel the same as was provided for Chipping Sodbury Tunnel?)

And on Tuesday, the area from west of Uffington to Stratton was covered, with these notes:

– The modelled layout will be that before the 2000/2002 South Marston alterations (this is necessary in order to fit Uffington Loops back into the panel).

– Several signals which are currently 4-aspects were 3-aspects before South Marston was installed: DM69, DM70, SN20, SN620.

– DM72 did not exist (having been converted to SN20 at the time of Bourton Crossovers commissioning)

– DM73 was in a different position (incidentally, this signal was re-numbered SN.998 between 2000 and 2002 to protect the installed-but-not-commissioned crossovers).

– SN4, SN604 did not exist.

– SN681 did not exist, but SN683R existed in its place.

– 624 had an outer repeater, 624RR, on the same structure as DM74.

– SN81 was UM75.

Swindon Panel Sunday and EGM

Thank you to everyone who braved the wet weather and came along and visited us on Swindon Panel Sunday (23 November).

An impressive fifteen members turned out for the 15-minute EGM (and a further twenty sent a proxy), in which the proposal to make some minor changes to the constitution was carried unanimously. After the meeting the group walked around the building site and saw the progress being made, learned about the layout of the site and which rooms would be where and discussed the potential timeline for completion.

SPS and GWS member Andy Braben then showed the group around the two mechanical signal boxes at Didcot Railway Centre – Radstock North and Frome Mineral Junction: a very interesting look back through technology that far precedes ours. It has been the aspiration of the GWS to maintain the interior of the two signal boxes as signal boxes would have been, as opposed to ‘museums’. The GWS does have, however, a quantity of display-appropriate signalling-related material waiting for an opportunity to be displayed, and a lot of this will be displayed in the GWS part of the new building. This room is becoming known as the ‘Bristol Room’ (because the signalling at DRC is organised by the Bristol Group). It may get an official name in future… we’ll see!

Much talking and discussing of the progress and plans for the site and the panel and the Society followed, so hopefully everyone left feeling sufficiently filled-up with information about our exciting project. Thank you very much again to everyone who came, your enthusiasm to do so is very encouraging!

SimSig Licence Agreed

SimSig is a well-known IECC signalling simulator that many people have downloaded and enjoyed. There are SimSig simulations for a great many locations throughout the country, including the Swindon Panel area. The original SimSig idea has developed on to simulators that are now used for training signallers on VDU signalling systems throughout Network Rail and all over the world.

We have been working with SimSig for a number of months to develop a simulator for the Swindon Panel area that will have the added capability to interface with the panel hardware. This will allow Swindon Panel to function as if it is connected to its real interlockings, and as if trains are moving around outside, plus all the other external stimulus that the interlocking would expect, such as point moving, track circuits, signals, etc.

Today we have reached another milestone in the history of SPS, in that we entered into the official licence agreement for use of the SimSig software and hardware interface. We are very grateful indeed to SimSig for allowing us the use of their intellectual property at zero cost to the Society.

SimSig simulations (including the Swindon Panel area) can be downloaded and played on your computer at home from the SimSig website:

Tuesday Operations Group

The Tuesday members of the Operations group held their first meeting this evening, covering all the signals and points from Circourt to west of Uffington. (The Monday and Tuesday groups fringe at Studley).

A couple of interesting points to come out of this evening’s good work:

– The signal spacing between Challow and Uffington will be of the post-125mph era (as it will be on most of the panel).

– There is plenty of evidence that the trailing points at the entrances to both up and down goods loops were sprung, but no evidence that we can see that they were converted to motorised before the loops were removed in 1994/1996. Unless we find any evidence to the contrary, and if nothing else than for a bit of historical artistic licence, we will model them as sprung points (the facing ends being necessarily motorised). It is not unreasonable by any means to propose that they were sprung to the very end, as similar scenarios exist at Hemerdon to this day, and did at Severn Tunnel Junction until the area was resignalled a couple of years ago.

Thank you to those who are taking part in the operations groups on Mondays and Tuesdays. It’s a slow task but is producing good results in that we are getting a well-thought-out and historically-merited layout on the preserved panel.

Click to enlarge.

More next week!

Second place in the RailUK Forum Poll

We came a very close second in the RailUK forums poll of a worthy cause for £500.

So very close!

We were pipped to the post by Close the Loughborough Gap.

Thank you very much to everyone who voted.

Two things jump to mind from the outcome:

– We, and the first place, were miles ahead of all the other candidates, showing that we have a good claim on being part of the big league of preservation credibility.

– Proportional to the number of members and followers we have and compared to the GCRs, we have achieved a much much higher turnout. While it wasn’t only Society members who voted, if we use ‘number of members’ as a representation of size, we have 150-something members and won 35 votes (23%). I don’t know how many members the GCRs have, but I bet it’s more than us! This makes our turnout proportionally much higher.

Forums are an excellent way of spreading the word about the work of Swindon Panel Society, so please feel free to relay our big news items onto the forums you belong to, and also remember our forum banners and signatures: on this page.

First Operations Group Conference

The first of our Operations Groups was held this evening by telephone conference – thank you to those who have joined in. We looked at all the signals from Wootton Bassett to Thingley Junction to work out what we would replicate and in what form.

Interesting points to come out of the discussion:

– SN645 shunt ahead has a stencil indicator but is yellow arrows on the panel.

– We will provide SN.668 (removed 1985), in order to allow provision of ground frames etc at Chippenham.

– We will provide a route from SN.284 to SN.670, not 100% sure whether one would have been provided, but it doesn’t require any extra switches as 284 will already require a switch for other routes and SN.670 will already require an exit button for the route from SN.668. Just will require a yellow collar around the red exit button.

There are two operations group, a Monday group and a Tuesday group – next update tomorrow!

Foundation Concrete Pouring – extra Swindon Panel days

We hope to be pouring the building foundation concrete in early-mid December. This needs to be a mid-week job due to the skills requirements, crane drivers, etc, and is likely to be Tuesday 2 and Tuesday 16 December.

Would any members (or prospective members) be available on these dates at Didcot to help with this task?

Above everything else, this is the critical thing which will speed progress on our building. It is hoped the bricklayers can begin in January! (stopped only by heavy frost)

Please let us know if you are able to lend a hand.

Sir William McAlpine calls in on Swindon Panel Saturday

Sir William McAlpine was visiting Didcot Railway Centre on Saturday. While he was there he called in and had a chat with his favourite local WR Integra panel signalling preservation group! (Maybe he had heard it was Swindon Panel Saturday!)

SPS organiser Tim Miller explained what we were up to and what our aspirations are, and showed him the site on which the new building is being constructed. Sir William was pleased to see our progress and wished us the very best with our work.

Building materials are arriving on the site thick and fast, blocks, bricks, steel reinforcements, aggregate, etc. It all arrives by train (there being no road access to the Railway Centre), using the GWS’s own main-line registered wagons (REAL ‘trip’ working!) These are the wagons that we emptied of coal two weeks ago in the last Swindon Panel day.

Thankfully we have finished digging down now, and the progress is now in the upwards direction! It is expected that we will be back at ground level (where we started!) in January, but, of course, this time with a strong foundation.

Thank you to those to continue to support Swindon Panel Days at Didcot Railway Centre – there is always opportunities for more willing hands to get involved – plenty of different jobs, not all physically demanding, so if you can join us for a day or part of a day, you’d be very welcome. Tea and friendly chat available all day! Hot food is also on site for breakfast and lunch. The Railway Centre really is a fascinating place, with lots of steam-loco-related “opportunities” if you happen to be in the right place at the right time on the day…!