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BLS Scunthorpe Steel Works 21 vs. Covid-19 (home win)
Monday 31st August 2020

Report by Simon Mortimer


Despite a global pandemic, the opportunities offered by a sparsely filled brake van circulating around the vast empty wastes of a steelworks all day presented not only a chance for more esoteric track but to socially distance on an epic scale! [It certainly beats the traditional national Bank Holiday pursuit of sitting in a traffic jam on the way to the seaside and, of course, on the way back home afterwards.] Our preparations, on a fine cool August morning (allegedly the coldest August Bank Holiday on record in contrast to last year's Dakar rally conditions), included donning face masks, rubbing in alcoholic gel administered by matron and having our foreheads checked for excess heat...although naturally feverish for the off and in anticipation, everyone passed!

The four brake vans behind that stalwart No1 actually arrived 15 minutes early but the formation of our Brake Van bubbles meant we did not leave until around 10.35. There is an updated marked up track map with e-BLN, (it would be a first if we turned up here and something had not been altered) - thanks to Mark Haggas and Martyn Brailsford. We initially went through Barclays Loop and reversed at Dawes Lane bridge before ascending towards the Rail Service Centre (RSC) to visit Corus Road 3 as far as wagons stabled half way down before RSC Bays 6 West, 5, 4 and 3 all to the doors, returning via the headshunt down the slope. It was noticeable how quiet the whole works was, many roads were full of wagons that were empty in January and a single blast furnace (of the four) sent out a solitary plume of smoke and even that was not working at full capacity. There were large extra stockpiles of coke, scrap metal, billets, blooms and various products in amounts never seen before here (rather ominous).

Our tour rattled past Dawes Lane again, now orbiting past Anchor Exchange deliberately (that is strictly unnecessarily!) taking the crossover at 447 Points to immediately return over 446 Points. We then found, to great general approval, (by the way you might note an uptick in adjectival hyperbole when doing a bit I needed!) Mills Exchange Sidings Road 5 was clear to the buffers. It was the only one like that too... We duly kissed the buffers and returned to propel a solitary wagon to the buffers of Road 7 - and left it there. Reversing at 434 Points our tour headed for the Muck Bank which occupies a sort of industrial wilderness beyond which stretches a... marginally less industrial wilderness... Superbly we took the left hand side of the loop as approached, but it was almost full of wagons.

However I understand even our BLS/AFRPS Scunthorpe shunter supreme himself (Alan Shep) needed this section and so, without mucking about, we propelled the whole rake to cover at least half the loop line. I had not thought I would ever do the Muck Bank so anything here was a bonus. [It has been many years since one of our tours went in there and that was the right hand line - in recent years the access points had been clipped out of use.] The right hand line contained a long rake of decrepit badly deformed - possibly out of gauge even - internal wagons that made Cadbury's Mis Shapes look perfect.

After reversal out we threaded T9 to 408 Points before reversing to cover the T9 Loop and again reversed to traverse Road 10 where we observed the traditionally rusty chord adjacent left between 410-428 Points only to reverse at 411 Points and actually cover it! Joy! [Previously out of use, it was required by quite a few Scunthorpe hardliners.] Inside the brake van, being used to a melee of 10+ bodies on a veranda and a fairly stuffed interior, this socially distanced trip seemed almost palatial. Documents were spread out on the guard's desk inside just wafting to and fro to take photos through the door and make observations, perhaps a sit down for a bite to eat with a choice of seats...luxury.

We ventured up to the Bloom & Billet Mill visiting entrances BBM 6E (6 east) and that on the west side both to the doors to reverse and follow the long eastern perimeter route to arrive at 312 Points. We gratifyingly veered left to cover at least part of the old through outer route (now truncated) beyond the Concast Road level crossing, buffering up to the wagons stored there. We then reversed again at 312 Points, through New Loop and right around BOS Plant (Basic Oxygen Steelmaking) past Bridge 44.

Then another 'unnecessary' weave over the new(ish) facing and trailing crossovers in quick succession to stay on the same track, veer left at 214 Points and gain the entrance to Rod Mill at RM14, a short peripheral siding and Bar Mill Gate 7, again to the door, before returning to 213 Points to return via the line between the Torpedo Bay and Blast Furnaces to Appleby Platform. Here a personal needs break and a cup of tea were most welcome and a chance to catch up with many familiar faces which haven't been at all familiar at all for at least 5½ months, but easy to recognise even with faces covered, surprisingly! Last August it was so hot the party practically cleared out the ice cream cabinet, this year it was hot drinks and packed lunches, although standing in the sun it was pleasant enough, dry and unusually not windy. Unable to keep still as usual, Kev Adlam sanitised the brakevan handrails.

Around 14.10 we re-commenced the tour heading to Dawes Jn and then back to the gates of the Appleby Coke Ovens, this afforded the chance to observe the flaming coal wagons on the coke line being quenched with water... probably tons of it and a plume of steam rising. This once common sight around the land is now confined to a few locations - some coke ovens were so regular in their habits that you could set your watch by the steam. But before we scuttled away we took on the short spur off the Coke Ovens Line at 522 Points. This siding is little used and the points reluctant to yield, in fact last time this was attempted we gave up! But today, utilising a long length of scaffolding pole from one of the ubiquitous scrap heaps that litter the site, the blades were levered across (I am sure Archimedes never had this in mind) and our subsequent totter over them was monitored assiduously before we stopped just before the buffers - a choice section. Talking of coke ovens, it was noticed that demolition of Dawes Lanes Coke Ovens has been paused (the ovens went out on 8 Mar 2016 and the last train before the points were disconnected was our Easter Mon 28 Mar 2016 tour). They have developed a veritable roof garden with all manner of plants starting to grow out of the top - nature never gives up.

We then reversed to gain the siding at 527 Points between the High Level Line and route to Northants Bridge, permanently occupied by at least six derelict locos, so un-coverable to the end. It's doubtful they could even be moved, but half a loaf is better than none - here it's effectively the whole loaf!

Our tour then travelled to access the Blast Furnace Area from the south end... away from the Blast Furnaces of course, where, after reversal at 140 Points, we proceeded through 129 and 130 Points to reach furthest extent between 132 and 133 Points, reversing back over the crossover to 134 Points and covering the main line to 136 Points, before reversing and traversing the Bottom Loop back to 134 Points. Here we were thwarted by a points failure meaning we could not access Queen Victoria West Road to 132 Points; hopefully a section for next time... memo to the PW department... To travel right up to Queen Victoria's bottom (the first blast furnace) would require everyone to wear hot metal suits - curiously made of wool - and full protection, impractical for even our smaller than usual sized group.

Next we journeyed to the BOS Plant for a fairly routine traversal, NOT of course taking in the extremity past the hot metal torpedoes patiently queued up ready to be emptied as, while done on some earlier trips, this is now a barred area. We did, however, do all of the Lime Road from 146 Points which your reporter confesses to have given very little (zero) attention previously and, while truncated short of the unloading bunker, was a very worthwhile trundle up to the buffers while opportunity knocked.

We set off on a fairly routine reversal and orbit ... via 160 Points (BOS), a double reversal at 143 & 145 for the long route round the perimeter except, as an alternate to the morning's run, via the New Loop next to Slab Bay. This was occupied so we used the side closer to the now rail-less middle entrance before crossing Concast Road twice to run alongside the Concast (= Continuous Casting) plant.

Here most lines were full, but not that from 363 Points that run back splitting at 364 Points and go into the Concast Plant. Most pleasingly we traversed both of them to the door, both roads were full inside anyway. From here we journeyed on along the Mill Shop Running Road via 351 Points to 345 where the Soaker Road joins right to return to the bottom end of the new line that runs north through the bottom end of the Medium Section Mill at 316 Points. For anyone not on our 4 Jan 2020 trip this was required track. [The most requested section for this tour.] However, two stabled locos on the 'main' meant a weave through the loop (Eastern side 317-318) so the Jan trip still has a small claim to fame!

We headed north at top speed through Mills 12 and past the Anchor Yard before pausing at Dawes Jn. Then out train veered left into the Container Terminal covering Road C2 then B2 - recently extended and now adjacent the end of B1. It previously only went half way (but of course we went the whole way), so an unexpected bonus and map amendment. We finally passed back through Dawes Jn and to the end of Trent 10, but no chance transferring to the High Yard lines as we would have activated the track circuit, making our presence felt in York ROC... lots of paperwork... Four DBC Class 66s were stabled - the most seen at once here in recent years. There were also plenty of well loaded lengthy trains waiting in the sidings to go out so it would soon be 'chocks away' (as they say at Cadburys...).

The tour returned to the Appleby Platform at the AFRPS shed for a 'surprise' - it was for the organiser too - (not Frodingham Platform near the main road). There participants were told to abandon ship as we were to finish the day in the recently delivered 3-car Pacer 144017. It had arrived here (by rail) on Thur 27 Aug and the AFRPS are looking after it for the owner. We all detrained... the brake vans were withdrawn and all eyes sat on the Pacer now sporting a BLS head plate... the engine started… lights shone... the doors opened and closed?? Is that standard procedure??... No. After a valiant 20 minutes and having moved at least three yards, the pacer was abandoned with a door interlock error keeping the brakes on, we returned to the thoroughly tested standard traction and stock, no door interlocking.

Arrival at Frodingham gave an outside chance of the 17.48 to Doncaster and a Le Mans start was only thwarted by a 3 minute stand at the 4-way traffic control on the junction before the station... My aspirant passengers arrived a minute after the train had left! [If Simon couldn't make it, no one would.]

I turned for home very pleased with the day, 11 new snippets some quite significant. I don't think that I have mentioned it to anyone before but there is still the small matter of ANY line to the Heavy Repair Bay from the West and the actual Door of Medium Section Mill C... just saying in case... Thanks to Alan Sheppard and his team for their unstinting efforts both in planning and all the point changing/levering/ flange way scraping... very much appreciated! It was a very efficient route with no time wasted all day. Our Scunthorpe Virgins on the tour obtained extensive coverage of this enormous site. Roll on January ...brrrrrrrr... Dear Father Christmas, I have been a good Gricer, please may I have an arctic suit…


Our fixtures are not only interesting, and enjoyable but educational. Here, for example, Scunthorpe participants could learn 'Put your handbrake on' in seven different languages.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The coke oven quenching tower; a wagon of flaming coal is about to be quenched. It is an interesting thought that some like to quench their thirst with Coke. Straight ahead is some ungriceable track (sadly).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Scunthorpe Sky; only the 'Victoria' Blast Furnace - the most distant one of the four is actually blasting. Left is a plume of steam (honest) from Appleby Coke Ovens where pin picks of orange fire can be seen in the silhouette.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Mills Exchange Sidings Road 10, our group is weighed tare (that is before lunch).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




View forwards traversing 410 to 428 Points; a little used rusty section needed by many (the Society provides a polishing service). The Foreign Ore Branch is on the embankment ahead.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




View forward running towards Bar Mill Gate 7 (the gate was indeed barred too).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Our tour approaching the buffer stops of Mills Exchange Sidings Road 5 with the Medium Section Mill ahead.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The start of the Muck Bank loop with some wild flowers in the local Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the right.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




PLEASE DO NOT ADJUST YOUR DEVICE! It takes years of training with a long apprenticeship and much experience to make wagons do this (Muck Bank right hand line).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Recently arrived Pacer 144017, which belongs to a private individual, at the AFRPS sidings.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The tour runs cautiously over the points (unmoveable on a previous tour) onto the stub siding off Appleby Coke Ovens branch.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The view towards the underneath of the 'Queen Victoria' Blast Furnace, approaching from the south and running over 131 Points.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Approaching the blast furnaces from the south end; lines not used recently (132 Points ahead).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The limit reached at the Black Hole of Scunthorpe (the south end of the blast furnaces).
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Discharged hot (they were too) torpedoes returning from the BOS Plant are seen approaching the blast furnace for a refill.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




On the Lime Road buffer stops; the BOS Plant lines are right then, far right, part of the former (as in used to be but isn't now) Mould Shop.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




363 Points, looks towards the Concast (continuous casting) building - both of these lines were traversed by our tour.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




The now extended end of Redbourn Semi-Finished Line B2 (but it was finished); now the same length as B1. The Foreign Ore Terminal is ahead.
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




Back at the Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society valiant efforts were made to coax the Pacer into action but it was to no avail… Perhaps next time?
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]




On the Coking Plant branch the point is set for the siding ahead (the coking plant is off right)
[© Simon Mortimer 2020]

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