The Branch Line Society


Coate Water Warbler,
Saturday 29th September 2018

Report by Nick Porter

Three miles south of central Swindon is Coate Water Country Park. The main water feature was constructed as a reservoir to supply the Wilts and Berks Canal. At its centre is a fine 1935 Grade II listed Art Deco concrete diving platform. Swimming is most certainly not encouraged now, but on a lovely early autumn day the park was busy.

Taking up the northeast corner are the spacious grounds of North Wilts Model Engineering Society's Coate Water Miniature Railway. Formed in the early 1960s they moved here in 1965. Back in 2018, on 29 Sep, a sign at the entrance advised that the railway was hosting a private visit - yes, it was ours - but would be open for public running next day. £2 for a ride was good value as we would find out.

Evolution over the years has led to the railway gradually filling up the largely wooded site, with an inner circuit, outer circuit and now a new extension - the target for some. I had never been before so it was all good for me [that's one piece of new track in total then, Nick]. 18 members were warmly welcomed to the clubhouse for drinks and biscuits - as part of the deal we threw in the box of biscuits! Then it was back to Lakeside station where two trains waited. I boarded the train in P1 hauled by 66780 (the original; the GBRf loco came later!) with four sit astride coaches. 66152 'David Hawkins' (named after a late Club member who built the extension) was in P2 with 4 DBS sit astride 'hoppers'.

The signal box diagram at Coate Water.
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

A multitude of miniature members.
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

66152 'David Hawkins' with 4 DBS sit astride 'hoppers' and 66780 with four sit astride coaches await departure.
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

Off we set taking the normal run at first, that's the outer circuit and then the new extension loop to Richard Jefferies Halt opened in 2015 which has two tunnels although three are planned. The railway had not seriously considered extending this far but were encouraged by a Swindon development body in conjunction with the new museum dedicated to the eponymous Victorian nature writer. The other train drew up in the loop next to us and then we completed the circuit back through Lakeside P1 and to Richard Jefferies Halt again but this time, of course, the loop. The other train did the same by swapping roads at Richard Jeffries on the return. And now for something completely different…The fun really started with a run through the avoiding line, the inner circuit which has an impressive bridge and back to Lakeside 2, back round the extension, Lakeside P1, inner circuit, Lakeside P3 and then onto the old loop with no regular public service. On the various circuits a few squirrels were seen darting up and down the trees and on one occasion avoiding an oncoming locomotive by the skin of its teeth!

Reversing here on the left side we moved up to the Special Needs Carriage Shed (could a shed approached by a BLS miniature railway charter ever have been more appropriately named‽). We couldn't do the track nearest the old loop as it had track on top of it, but when the second train arrived this was removed to allow both trains to ultimately traverse this line. Beyond it was the fire drop which we gingerly moved onto under the safe supervision of the club members who seemed to be really enjoying themselves. Then the track next to the fire drop line and we crossed the old loop to the south side where the carriage sheds and steaming bay turntables are located. Apart from one crossover, all lines of the five road carriage shed were done, but we could not run into the shed itself as it has two shelves of coaches above the track (no headroom). We did ask! Finally, the elevated line up to the steaming bay was covered while we watched the other train repeat our moves. We then targeted the club house yard doing the head shunt and towards the five track shed with a sector point Finally, it was the siding from P3 and the turntable line. My notes become a bit hard even for me to follow after this but it shows how thorough the trip was.

In any case the other train did a different route but covered the same tracks, and while the railway did have a plan it didn't last long! Anyway a few more circuits made sure all crossovers and curves were covered including both sets of diamond crossovers on the station approaches. The one furthest from the station had only been completed weeks before our visit!. Finally both trains met in Lakeside station and we had the option of switching trains. I did and the DBS MGR hoppers had lovely padded seats which were much appreciated after two hours on the first set [yes but don't touch your bottom discharge catch!]. Certainly those who had been on them, on sampling the hard seats were very pleased to have done the two sets that way around!

Going up in the world - Alan Sheppard at the 'keen end' of the train on the limit of the Fire Drop Road. The train seems to be carrying apparitions of two of our members; your Editor has never seen a photo quite like this before; was it a ghost train perhaps‽
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

The crew then took requests and 66152 took us to the now clear siding by the Special Needs Carriage Shed and the missing crossover by the carriage sheds with more spirited running. Much of the layout is on a gradient so driving is more enjoyable as a result.

That was it and with every available track traversed it was back to the clubhouse for more refreshment and an interesting talk about the club. No more significant developments are proposed, but a further avoiding line to allow more flexibility is being considered. Before leaving after a well filled three hours, we were invited in the signal box. Full colour signalling is used supplemented with CCTV coverage, although the outer reaches still have manually controlled signals/points also controlled by Multiple Aspect Signalling with 'feathers' as appropriate. Many thanks to North Wilts MES for making us so welcome and of course to Simon Mortimer for, as always, a very thorough and very enjoyable visit.

The tour backs up to the appropriately named 'Special Needs Shed', on the left is the multi level stock shed, the inside of which was some of the tiny amount of track not covered here.
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

The thorough coverage at the lovely friendly railway even included the adjacent turntable road - if/when we have a repeat Society visit don't miss it…
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

It's that Mr Sheppard again, no coincidence. Happiness is… being allowed to face the wrong way round, being at the 'keen end' of the train and touching the buffer stops.
[© Simon Mortimer 2018]

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