As time and resources allow, Elsecar Heritage Railway is actively extending its line by a further mile from Tingle Bridge Lane at Hemingfield to Cortonwood.
Progress is good and we now have continuous rail all the way, using second-hand track panels obtained from the Network Rail mainline refurbishment between Barnsley and Chapeltown. Although this rail is no longer suitable for high speed train running, it is fine, once renovated, for a heritage railway operating at 10mph.
The track bed has been cleared of vegetation and where needed repaired. Especially, at the entry to the Cortonwood site, the track bed had to be rebuilt and drainage sorted.
The track panels have been laid along the route and joined together, giving us continuous rail for the full extra mile. The only piece of original rail is in the road crossing at Smithy Bridge Lane, which also must be replaced.
Careful, time-consuming track inspection identifies problems, like this rotting sleeper and missing track bolt. Once all parts are good to run, then levelling and ballasting can commence. As well as the track the entire line has to be fenced and safety signs installed.
Although the track is all there, there is much to do to make this operational to the standards required by the Office of the Rail Regulator (ORR) in order to be able to run public passenger trains.
The track has to be safe and robust as we need it to last many years with as little maintenance overhead as possible. Of course, we have to maintain the existing running line at the same time as working on the extension.
Using second-hand track panels in the extension, there are components that are life expired, especially some of the wooden sleepers (the cross pieces that the rail sits upon). Between Tingle Bridge Lane and Smithy Lane the sleepers are to be concrete on a ballast (stone chippings) base. From Smithy Lane to Cortonwood wooden sleepers on a ballast or ash bed will be used.
Inspecting, changing and repairing each track panel is a slow process. Rail lengths have to be altered, so the joints all line up, and be bolted back together.
Once the track is robust, ballasting can start, which is now underway between Tingle Bridge Lane and Smithy Lane. The end result will be a robust mile of track to serve us well, with regular maintenance, for the next 20 years of running.
The extension has two level-crossings; Tingle Bridge Lane and Smithy Lane.
Tingle Bridge Lane is the busier highway and the railway crosses this close to a junction with Wath Road. This means that an automatic barrier crossing is needed here. Already the signal box for this crossing is installed with power and the switch gear. You may not have noticed it as it is just a large green cabin, not the romantic image of a white railway signal box. On approaching this crossing, trains will have to stop and the crew will operate the barriers to stop road traffic, with the barriers automatically raising to allow the road traffic to pass again. This automatic train detection to lift the barriers is operated by a track circuit. Where the track circuit operates then the rail has to be welded together.
Work has been carried out at our Hemingfield site to clear away vegetation to give motorists a much clearer view of the upcoming railway crossing as they approach from Hemingfield Colliery. Although we have the barriers for the crossing they are not quite long enough for the road, so we have to extend these too.
Smithy Lane will be a gated crossing, operated manually, being a much quieter road. Although modern materials, these gates will look like the old fashioned railway crossing gates. The old track in Smithy Lane has to be lifted and replaced with a new track panel to be level with the new extension. Tesco Carrier Bags Scheme is helping us with a grant to pay for this work.
For both road crossings regulatory approval is needed to open for passenger traffic. We are working with Barnsley Council and the Office of the Rail Regulator to achieve this milestone - it is a very lengthy process. Following staff training in road works management we are now able to take an engineering train across the crossings - see the cover photograph at Tingle Bridge Lane Crossing.
Following the swift progress at Cortonwood, following award of £50,000 of funding from the Big Lottery Fund - People’s Millions, we keep the site maintained and protected to secure the investment for the future that has been made there, while we wait for the railway to arrive. Alas, there has been some vandalism at the site, but nothing that we can not quickly put right. Work has commenced on a run around loop for the station (so the engine can move to the other end of its train) and we have moved the buffer stop to give a little more room for train movement. A siding will also be installed here to stable our Museum Carriage.
We are excited about the work on Hemingfield Colliery and are considering introducing a new halt station here too. A team from Sheffield University have been designing options for us.
Work is underway at Elsecar (part of the extension plans) to lay a new siding alongside the running line near to the canal basin. This will allow stock to be stored there clearing space in Elsecar Station to bring the run round loop into use, necessary to match the work at Cortonwood end.
Nearly all the work we do on the extension is funded by the railway from its own income. It is simple maths that the more tickets we sell or donations received, the more we can invest in growth.
As with all charities, we do not have an unlimited amount of money we can spend and there are always different operating costs and projects needing money, which we have to prioritise. So far we have spent approximately £150,000 on the extension, all money generated by railway operations. In 2015/6 we needed to focus on our engines and existing track which diverted over £130,000 to those priorities. We have income and spend it wisely, but could always do with generating some more! Of course all these project costs are on top of the everyday running costs, like the many thousands of pounds we spend on coal and oils to keep the steam engines running.
People are just as much the key as money. The more people we have working on income generation (so publicity, events, fundraising, customer care etc) then the more money we will generate. The more money we have to spend on projects the more people we need to deliver the projects (so planning, track laying, maintenance, electrics, legal, safety, etc..)
We are a merry band of about 60 volunteers, so everything we have achieved so far is pretty amazing we think! We are looking forward to giving you a ride on our new extension as soon as we can!
Want to know more?
Call in at our station, Elsecar Heritage Railway, Wath Road, Elsecar, Barnsley, S74 8HJ
Please make a donation which will help us progress our work further.