The Branch Line Society


Cold Steel Tracker
Saturday 6th January 2018

Report by Martyn Brailsford

January has come around again; it must be time for another trip to British Steel, Scunthorpe - formerly Tata Steel, in the cold ... (with thanks to our member Donald Stirling) is 170 pictures of what happened and what can be seen on one of our legendary tours. There are updated marked-up and unmarked maps on our website with the point numbers shown.


On arrival at Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society's (AFRPS) Frodingham platform, it was apparent we had a good mix of the regular attendees and Scunthorpe 'virgins'! Therefore our local member Alan Sheppard, 'BLS Route Director' and a working AFRPS volunteer, had two groups to satisfy. Thankfully, and as requested, some regulars had emailed their 'wants' in advance and Alan had produced the all important colour coded map (lines split into requested/did last year/not available) so knew what to go for and what could in theory be ignored. The idea is to cover as many areas as possible for the new people (who did a total of one new piece of track all day - but it was very complex and lengthy!). Those of you who go to Scunthorpe will know that you cannot visit every area in one day to cover the 100 miles or so of track at the site, so we have a careful balance to maintain.

At the appointed hour, well 09.30, Hunslet 0-6-0 No.58 could be seen in the distance hauling the obligatory three brake vans, for our 15th railtour here since Nov 2010. This time a way had been found of affixing a full sized BLS headboard to the loco which was carried all day. We had a warning that the two rear vans on arrival had fires lit in the stoves, but what became the 'Desperados' van had no stove in it - who would be desperate enough to inhabit it on a very cold January day...?
As the cartographer of the now definitive Scunthorpe Steelwork rail map, I took up my usual position up front on the loco, to note any alteration to the layout, the route we took, and to be an extra pair of hands and eyes, if needed. I also occasionally assist in route planning as quite often Alan is at the other end of the train. I boarded the loco to be greeted by Colin - our now regular driver, Glenn - (Mr AFRPS himself and Works Railway Manager for his day job), and Alan. Now those of you who were there and thought I would be nice and warm in the loco will be pleased to hear that the heating on the loco was not working particularly well and with all the reversals the doors and windows were regularly open...

The loco ran round the three brake vans in the platform and set off with the 62 participants, the first port of call it was decided would be AFRPS' other Appleby platform at their shed, to use their facilities as someone had requested them... We duly arrived and no one got off (too embarrassed?).
The train quickly left and ran to Scunthorpe Plate Mill Road 23, which once continued to the Old Stripper Shed, the only road of the mothballed Plate Mill that isn't clipped OOU. The loco was not in good health as it kept disengaging forward gear but we persevered and headed off to see what was available that had been requested on the wagon side of the Heavy Repair Bay - nothing unfortunately.

It was noted that across the way the much requested siding on the north side of the Plate Mill at Points 548 (called 'Pig Caster Stay Road' we learnt!) was not as full as usual, so it was suggested that we did it. Glenn decided to make it better by shunting the three offending bogies wagons out to the Heavy Repair Bay and we then completed this previously difficult to get siding and tested its buffer stop.
Winn's sidings were investigated where the two Iron Roads were empty; although not requested, we decided to traverse them anyway, as they are not always clear. The plan Alan and I suggested was then to run up to the Rail Service Centre, but Glenn advised that as it was rather full we wouldn't gain much. Therefore we took the bridge over the Basic Slag Road (of the tarmacadamed variety) that runs through the steel works and looked over to the fairly empty Redbourne Sidings. Two roads had been requested, B1 (empty) which was duly traversed, and D1 with a short rake of internal bogie wagons. This was dealt with by coupling up, propelling them out of the way and returning them after!

The next objective was the DBC controlled Trent Yard, Glenn phoned: Roads 9 & 5 were available, so it was out on 9 returning via 5 and then we went 'round the bend' or at least 'The Angle' to Anchor Yard (also DBC controlled). Unusually it was fairly empty, so we did four different lines (11, 13, 15 & 16) completely, three had been requested. We nearly gained a fourth requested roaD, but it was occupied by just two wagons, which we didn't have authority to move. Very rusty Road 12 was full of cripples.
The perimeter running line was taken to Mills Exchange Sidings, at this point another irritating loco fault manifested itself, the Torque Converter was overheating, so we had to take it easy every time the big red warning light came on and therefore take a few minutes more between locations. At Mills, three roads were available (all requested!), one was dead end - No.5, which we did immediately plus two through roads (10 & 11). Now at this point we thought wouldn't it be nice if there were three through roads available so we would end up at the other end of the sidings to continue the journey.

Glenn had a cunning plan, No.12 was only occupied by Di-8 8720 (carries No.820), so he sent our train off down No.10, and told us to come back to just where No.11 & No.12 split. Arriving at this arranged 'point', the Di-8 was heading towards us; it coupled up and hauled us back along No.12 road! This 'Norwegian' haulage for the first time on a BLS tour caused considerable excitement amongst participants. It was uncoupled at the far end and then we traversed No.11 road under our own power before heading off further round the perimeter line towards the Welfare Loop, bagging another piece of required track.
Continuing round the perimeter with further slow running due to the overheating Torque Converter, we arrived at the Scrap Bay, hoping to do most of this as it had not been visited in 2017. However, badly parked wagons potentially blocked a set of points, and much mud blocked flangeways so only two lines were used, but the requested Dead End Road was unusually empty and taken to ….. the dead end. We left the area, traversed the recently re-laid crossover between the two perimeter lines and headed on the main towards the Rod Mill. We double checked for requests there, but there were none, so the tour returned via the recently much extended 15 loop for the first time on a Society tour.

Lunchtime was approaching, so the plan was to head back to the AFRPS shed, however Glenn decided, at the last minute, that we would pop into the Torpedo Repair Bay to see what was available. Not a lot on first viewing; a badly parked Torpedo blocked Roads 2-5, and other stock blocked the rest of the roads except unrequested No1 Road. As we were there we decided to head along there and stopped by the shed entrance. Glenn disappeared, a minute later he instructed Colin to continue into the Repair Bay, which we did to the end of line! The return took an alternate route via the loop and, after a reversal; Queen Anne (one of the four blast furnaces) was visited covering both lines there then the dead end siding (Points 114) just by the entrance to this area. Then it was back to the AFRPS Depot for a much wanted hot drink and food (included in the cost), with an optional quick depot spotting tour.
After a 45-minute break the afternoon session began with the AFRPS depot headshunt before heading past 227 loop and Winn's sidings, reversing by the entrance to Redbourne. At Appleby Coke Ovens, the stub siding was full but the never traversed (well Alan needed it!) line to the Coke Ovens gate was empty, so we helped ourselves… Returning back to the running line, we continued toward BOS (Basic Oxygen Steelmaking) Gantry, while Glenn made one of his numerous phone and radio calls to obtain permission to visit the next location. His plan had been the much requested (and at times recently unobtainable) High Level line. Unfortunately there was a minor obnoxious gas leak so we were unable to go up there. The normally full dead end siding (much requested) off Points 527, parallel to the High Level line, was almost empty - just two locos (61 & 63) on the buffer stops - so it was put in the book.

We finally reached the BOS Gantry via the right hand road, after more Torque Converter overheating and traversed the empty Lime Road. Glenn wanted to go further along the BOS Gantry, but a recent decree has put the lines past the torpedo unloading point out of the reach of brake van rides again. So we reversed in the middle road to stop short of the unloading point, however it was a bit busy up there (but warm!) and another hot torpedo train was on the way. Our most expedient route out was past the unloading point, over a much required crossover (Points 160) and back via the outer road and crossovers to reach the left hand road down the hill. After three reversals by Bridge 44 the inner perimeter line was reached and used to head via the Slab Yard to the (lower) BOS Yard… that was the plan, however the Torque Converter decided to overheat again and this time the protection also kicked in and cut the engine. Thankfully it restarted and we were off again, only after a slight delay.
Reversing just past the Slab Yard to run towards the Concast building the tour passed a parked, but running loco, beyond its empty flats. We reversed in the right hand dead end siding here, and back passing the parked loco, I thought this was strange at the time; normally works traffic has priority over our tours… Anyhow, our trip continued further and stopped at the entrance to the BOS Yard; over the radio we ascertained that the loaded wagons in the much sought after No.4 Siding were about to be moved!! (In all the years I have been going to Scunthorpe it has always been occupied and Alan has only seen it empty once.) So we waited until they cleared it and nipped in sharpish… traversing all but the last 6ft due to the condition of track (spoil a foot deep over the rails). Reversing out, at Points 363 both lines to the Concast building were covered. Meanwhile, the previously parked loco and flats went past and reversed into … siding No.4 - luck was with us; we had been in the right place at the right time!

Nothing more was available here so it was off to Northants Bridge, reversing toward Bridge 44, and again into the (other) Blast Furnace area (Queen Victoria end) via the requested Bottom Loop towards the 'rear' end of the trip. As darkness fell, thoughts turned to returning to Frodingham platform, via Stores Road, but a diversion was made via the CEW Dock Bay access line ('Basic Hill') and headshunt that overlooked the loco end of the well floodlit Heavy Repair Bay. Reversing, the CEW Dock line was taken and was emptier than usual. The tour passed the AFRPS platform on its loop to the headshunt (just too short for the train) and back, then did the platform line to the headshunt and back to finish.
Now for some statistics, our 'Reversalmeister', Colin Ward, confirmed 79 reversals, as on our Jan 2017 tour, a remarkable coincidence. The trip delivered 28 pieces of rare specialised required track from the 75 requested by various participants. It has to be mentioned that 27 of the 75 were from Alan, who on 'Mastermind' would make the railway his specialist subject. These include an assortment of the last 30ft or so of lines into buildings that are possible, but unlikely. Alan actually scored four pieces, which is pretty good considering he hasn't picked up any new track up on his previous four Scunthorpe AFRPS visits, and normally only does one new section on each of our tours here. We covered all the main running routes except between the Medium Section Mill and the former Bloom & Billet Mill and visited the vast majority of the various areas of the plant - the one exception was the Rail Service Centre.

As can be seen, tours of this nature cannot be totally planned in advance, we know the areas we would like to visit and the priority of them (based on requests and previous coverage) but until the day, finding out what is clear, nothing can be planned really. An email I recently received from Glenn points out: ''Anyone who thinks anything was actually managed or planned, well, we planned to use Loco 58 & three brake vans, and managed to get them all together on the day for the right time, but other than that, it was made up as we went along. With a lot of lucky coincidences on the day the right bits of track were clear at the right time". What that doesn't say is Glenn's knowledge of the site, people and how it all works, is vital. Alan and Glenn do really have to think on their feet based on the evidence (sidings available & requested, who is on duty where, what works trains are where and what are they doing) and they manage to produce an excellent tour each and every time. (Next one 27 Aug.)

I would like thank Paul Stewart, for coordinating, Jill Everitt for taking the bookings, Alan our shunter and importantly Route Director for the day, Gary Lonsdale for the stock lists, Jim Sellens for the souvenir ticket, Colin our driver and Glenn Britcliffe 'Mr AFRPS'. Pleasingly, £2,500 was donated to support the good work of the AFRPS as a result of the day.

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