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Monday, 18 April 2011

Re-Open the Woodhead Line AGM

Re-open the Woodhead Line Annual General Meeting

7.30pm, Thursday 21st April 2011
Glossop Labour Club, Chapel Street, Glossop, Derbyshire SK13 8AT
All welcome

Greater Manchester campaigns come together in community rail summit

Campaign to Re-open the Woodhead Line are organising a Rail Campaigner's Summit to take place 7pm to 9.30pm on Thursday 26th May 2011 at Guide Bridge Theatre.

The event features a vision for Woodhead presented by the Re-Open the Woodhead Line Campaign as well as a presentation from Jim Bamford - Rail Officer Notts County Council - on the success of the Robin Hood Line re-opening and the broader lessons for rail campaigns.

The summit will include representation from campaigns from Reddish North Station, Denton Station and Don Valley Railway as part of a 'market place' showcasing local rail campaigns, there'll also be '5 minutes of Fame' with feedback from local groups on successes, challenges and lessons learned.

David Bryson, Chair of Re-open the Woodhead Line campaign says:

We're really looking forward to a chance to meet and network with other local groups and demonstrate the passion and commitment shown by local campaigners.

With our campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Woodhead route's closure we believe there's a strong, vibrant network of people working to revitalise and re-open local railways and stations.”

Entry is free, but there will be an opportunity to donate towards event costs, refreshments available, including a licensed bar.

The venue is very close to Guide Bridge Station, with regular services to Manchester and Glossop. Parking is also available.

For further information contact: Jonathan Atkinson, 0782 861 7933


Earlier this month, on the afternoon of Thursday 7th April to be precise, I met Theo McLaughlan, the Regional Station Manager for Northern Rail and Dwayne Wells, the Service Quality Manager for the same company at Hadfield station.

The meeting was arranged, of course, by the ubiquitous Dave Shaw who arrived bang on time (14:59) with Theo and Dwayne in tow, on the inwardly bound train from Piccadilly.

The point of the mission was to have an inaugural discussion/site visit/meeting of minds as to how we might spruce up the station and put it on the map, so to speak, and how this might fit within the aims and remit of our own ultimate mission, which is to re-open the Woodhead Line.

Before coming back to this question a few casual observations might be helpful. I like to think of myself as a casual observer and where better to casually observe Hadfield Station than the railway bridge at the end of the platform.

Spending any length of time here the casual observer would notice that the station is well used, most noticeably at rush hour naturally but throughout the day generally as well, it would be fair to say. Also the platform is quite lengthy for a small town station, not sure why but it has plenty of scope for enhancement, however form that might take.

The most noticeable and yet the most unfortunate observation though, is that when you arrive at Hadfield you really do hit the buffers. This is the terminus, though for no obvious reason. This isn’t Lands End, or a natural coastal cul-de-sac.

Rather, Hadfield is perhaps as far from a huge expanse of water as one is likely to be in England, notwithstanding the eight miles of reservoirs that flood the Longdendale valley! Moreover it lies between two of the largest cities in the country, with Manchester and Sheffield having a combined population of over one million people.

Armed with this knowledge our casual observer may begin to ask why indeed is

Hadfield a dead end, a railway cul-de-sac, the end of the line, or the Last Stop as the pub on the platform used to be called - before an image enhancement led it to be renamed Edwards Wine Bar (a misnomer if its sales of wine to lager ratio is anything to go by – just an observation!)

Meanwhile back at our meeting and having walked the length of the platform making casual observations, Theo explained that a ‘Friends of…’ group would be a logical way forward. Though it would be a slow process to establish a group in order to lever the fundraising/grants needed to make steady improvements to the place, it can be done, as regular users of Glossop Station will have witnessed.

Whilst nothing can be done about litter, that is the job of Network Rail who own the buildings and the track, (though Hadfield isn’t currently that bad), Northern are as Dwayne explained, responsible for basically everything that the passenger comes into contact with. The platform concourse, benches, notice boards, etc

Notice boards? Yes, Theo confirmed. There aren’t any at Hadfield but there’s plenty of room for at least two. A Friends group could display information about what they’re doing and how to get involved, publicise events and another could explain the history of the line for instance.

Now hanging baskets, planters and a good lick of paint will do wonders for brightening the old place up, especially on a typically grey drizzly day in Hadfield midsummer! A notice board on the other hand, depicting the travesty of the line closure - that could make people think. It might even spark discussions about how the past was and how the future might be….now that’s worth its weight in railway sleepers.

Friends of Hadfield Station, doesn’t exist yet and possibly never will but I don’t see why not. Whilst neither the best nor the worst of stations, it could benefit from a manicure, as could most. From the point of view of re-opening the Woodhead Line it is one small step perhaps towards re-igniting interest and publicity regarding the past, present and (potential) future of the line.

Definately Maybe as that Manc band would have it, or to confuse the words of an historical figure, a well known rock star and a mildly famous philosopher to create a quote of my own:

“Friends (of Hadfield Station), rovers, railwaymen,

The future (of the line) is unwritten, we have nothing to lose but our terminus.”

“Sounds more like Stuart Hall to me” said the casual observer!

“Well that would be most appropriate. Don’t you know that his parents had the cake shop on Station Road for donkey’s years? Yes, a fact and only a stone’s throw away from the station yard!” replied the local sage.

Woodhead memory – the summer of ’76

During the long, hot summer of 1976, I was a signalman at Woodhead. Being remote, posts at the signal box were hard to fill. The other signalman was Dick Gibbs who lived in one of the former railway cottages at Woodhead. I lived in Newton (for Hyde) at the time and enjoyed the run to and from work, especially coming in for early turn or going home after a night turn when the A628 through the Longdendale Valley was virtually traffic-free.

Working 12-hour turns had been good for my bank balance and towards the end of the summer I bought a brand new Triumph Bonneville 750cc motorbike for £954 (I still needed to borrow some of the money). The bike handled brilliantly and I learned the trick of tightening the locking screw on the throttle so that it stayed open when I released the twist grip. On a pair of Dunlop TT100s, the bike would handle itself and my party piece was to set the throttle, remove my hands from the handlebars and ride as far as I could along the curving valley road, steering, literally, by the seat of my pants; what a machine!

Dick and I were on regular 12-hour shifts, alternating days and nights, week by week. Saturday was a good day, as the line closed after the 06.00 to 14.00 turn. Generally, the last train cleared the section by 12.00, more often than not a light engine movement. One of my colleagues in an adjacent box would phone the Control Office (I didn’t have the nerve) and check that nothing else was en-route. Then it was 7-5-5 all round on the block bells and the weekend had begun – the line was closed on Sundays.

Of course, by 1976 the Woodhead Line was freight-only with an occasional passenger diversion if the Hope Valley route was closed for engineering work or due to an emergency. The advent of a passenger train caused a bit of excitement, albeit that it would almost inevitably consist of a humble DMU on our all-electric railway. Very occasionally, the Harwich Boat Train would come our way. Fittingly, this train still conveyed a 6-wheel bogie teak Gresley buffet car, very appropriate for this outpost of the former LNER.

However, freight trains were our regular fare plus any number of light engine movements. It was common for train crews to haul their load over Pennines and return empty-handed; bad for economics but good for footplate jobs. On a good day we would average four trains an hour in each direction. Yorkshire coal for Fiddlers Ferry power station was a staple traffic, Merry-Go-Round trains headed by a pair of air-braked class 76s in multiple. Plenty of steel also came out of the east, emerging blinking into the sunlight at Woodhead. New 100-ton air-braked wagons were slowly replacing the old vacuum-braked bogie bolsters at this time.

One baking-hot day, the British Oxygen Company train came to a stand on the Up line at Woodhead signal box, a couple of hundred yards short of the tunnel entrance. The double-headed train consisted of twelve 100-ton bogie gas tanks filled with liquid nitrogen; this was a crack train in the world of freight. Having axles with roller bearings, we had little trouble with the train but today a wagon wheel bearing was running hot and the wagon had to be detached. The only option was for the train to draw forward into the tunnel and then set back into the sidings to put the wagon off.

Woodhead had some sidings which were used by an occasional tamping machine and a few engineer’s ballast wagons but it was many years since anything this long or heavy (25-ton axle load) had been inside them. The sidings disappeared into heather and bracken after a few yards and buffer stops were not much in evidence. A phone call to the local Permanent Way Supervisor at Dinting (the locally legendary Arnold Simpson) met with a curt (and hurt) response – of course the sidings were usable and in good fettle – back the train inside!

The train drew forward into the tunnel. The driver couldn’t see the dolly signal from his cab so I arranged with him that when I flicked the tunnel lights off and on a few times (Woodhead Tunnel was illuminated throughout), that would be his signal to stop and set back. All duly went to plan and after some cavorting in the sidings, the wagon was detached. The train proceeded towards Yorkshire and Woodhead returned to its peaceful summer doze with a bright and shiny new guest – a white BOC tanker with an orange stripe along the side and 50 tons of liquid nitrogen on board, slowly cooking in the midday sunshine.

As the afternoon drew on and there was a break in traffic, curiosity got the better of me and I wandered down from the signal box to the patch of moorland that was Woodhead sidings. The wagon gleamed in the sunlight – the BOC tankers were always clean – and a wisp of steam swirled up from underneath the tank. Only it wasn’t steam, it was nitrogen escaping from the tank, converting from liquid to gas and then dispersing in a few seconds. What was I to do? Was this supposed to happen? Should I tell someone?

The answer came quickly. As I peered under the belly of the tank, there was a huge blast of gas – imagine a steam locomotive safety valve blowing off upside down. With a roar in my ears, I ran (as I thought it) for my life; as far as I know, I still hold the Peak District record for 100 yards in Doctor Marten’s boots. By the time I reached the signal box, the noise had stopped, the gas had gone and all was tranquil again.

Bravely, I stuck at my post, sending 6-bells (“Obstruction Danger”) to Dunford West and Torside signal boxes, preventing any trains approaching Woodhead. About half an hour later, the Control rang to tell me to re-open the line. They’d been in touch with BOC who said that there was nothing to worry about – the tank was venting its expanding contents through its safety valve and nitrogen is an inert gas. Reminded of my schoolboy chemistry lessons, I felt relieved to hear this information.

A couple of hours later, a small white van with red lettering came bumping down the track from the main road to the signal box - the man from BOC had arrived. He assured me that he would sort things out and all would be well, then off he strolled to visit Woodhead’s latest tourist attraction. I quickly realised that “sorting things out” meant opening the wagon’s discharge valve and dumping 50 tons of liquid nitrogen into the hot, still afternoon air. The valley filled with a white mist to a depth of about six feet over several hundred yards between the wagon and the tunnel mouth – much to consternation of the crew of a west bound coal train that I had allowed to approach at caution. As soon as the locomotive stuck its nose out of the tunnel, the driver slammed on the brakes – it didn’t look safe to continue as far as he was concerned - and fancy words like “inert” were not going to convince him otherwise!

Eventually, the mist cleared, the BOC man went home and the next day the wagon was repaired and a locomotive arrived to take it away. All that was left was a frozen patch where the liquid gas (at -196°C) had been discharged – it took 48 hours for the ground to thaw. The story of my selfless courage was recounted many times (by me) over a pint or three of Boddington’s Bitter in the Star Inn next to Glossop station, only to fade, like the Woodhead line itself, into the (inert) mists of time.

© Andy Jones 2011