The Branch Line Society

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Scunthorpe Cold Steel Tracker
Saturday 5th January 2019

Report by Terry Cotter


For me this event has very much become a 'season opener'; something to look forward to following return to work for a few days after the Christmas break. On a chilly morning [they had been warned] 66 of our members ranging from Scunthorpe Virgins to stewards and regulars needing little available track - but still enjoying the unique experience - gathered on the Appleby Frodingham Railway Preservation Society (AFRPS) platform ready for the 09.30 departure time. The platform PA (our General Secretary!) announced that the train had left the shed and was en route. Yorkshire Engine No1 duly arrived and the three brake vans were swiftly filled, so off we went taking advantage of the reduced works activity after the holiday period.

Passing the AFRPS shed, it was noted that the buffet car was undergoing refurbishment and so would not be available for our lunch stop. However, the sight of the DMU with rows of sandwiches soon put minds at rest. With e-BLN 1323 is a marked up tour plan (new updated layout) thanks to the inimitable Martyn Brailsford. The initial area visited was the Rail Service Centre via 227 Loop (as the main line was blocked by a chocked wagon) and the sought after (well by me, at least!) Plate Mill Siding 24 stub.

The former Plate Mill was being demolished but this is part of a large investment so a positive thing. With all the NR Christmas engineering works, the Rail Service Centre was unusually clear of the special mainline rail carrying wagons which are normally present. The two 6 Bay lines were covered as far as the tantalising open doors, then 2 Bay West and East lines to the first barrier but sadly not beyond.


Our all first class accommodation, note Alan Sheppard's homemade headboard
[© A Sheppard 2019]




The view forward propelling along Gantry Road towards Rail Service Centre Bay 6.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




Rail Service Centre 6 Bay entrance with rail sections on ultra low ground level trolleys in the distance.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




Souvenir ticket by Amy Nash and printed by Willow Printing & Design, Newton-le-Willows, our Society printer. (Even with the curved corners on the actual ticket, showing we don't cut corners...)


However, the New Gantry line buffer stops were tested in traditional Scunthorpe style (a first for nearly all, as previous visits had been limited by parked wagons). The final item in the area was the short headshunt (only just accommodating the three brakevans) reached via Corus Rail Sidings 4 Road. Then the loco abandoned us to return from another direction and reattached so return was via the loop outside Corus Rail Sidings 7 Road - very efficient. This confirmed the extra mile of effort always put in by all those operating our tours and very much appreciated, so now is probably a good time to thank Glenn, Alan, Martyn and everybody else involved in making these days so enjoyable.

Trent Low Yard sidings (out via 10, back through 9) were next on the itinerary then Anchor Exchange Sidings 14 and 16 followed by Number 2, taking care to not go too far [What, BLS members go too far‽] to pass the NR boundary and then alarmingly activate the 'SPAD' Alarm at Scunthorpe Signal Panel - but ensuring full overlap. Again all very desired pieces of track here and not just by me. Now if only that row of crippled, sorry mobility impaired, wagons filling the very rusty Road 12 could just be moved … [...everyone needs Road 12!].


Approaching Rail Service Centre 2 Bay West.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




One lump or two? Attempting to set the stove fire in the 'keen (cold?) end' brakevan.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




Propelling into the New Gantry Line.... most unusually it was actually clear of wagons.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




The Appleby Coke Ovens branch; a coke car with hot coal is under the quenching tower to the right with an impressive plume of steam being produced.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]


The steel works seemed to be gradually coming to life. The odd loco (and some even) were on the move with various clouds of steam appearing here and there. Appleby Coke Ovens was no exception, reached via its branch to the yellow safety gate which gave an excellent view of the coke car, ovens and quenching tower. It runs alongside the Basic Slag Road (no comment) of the tarmacked variety.

It was lunchtime so we returned to the AFRPS shed. Here some more unexpected steam was seen but not enough to allow a scratching in of 0-6-0 'Cranford' which hauled the DMU coaches (with snacks, sandwiches and drinks) in as a mobile café once everyone had alighted from the brake vans. After the usual efficient catering and look round, the group returned to the vans for the afternoon session.

This began by retracing our earlier route beneath the High Lines in the heart of the steel works but instead of carrying on to the southern part of the site, a reversal was made (so the keen end of the train was the right way round but keep that to yourself) sending us back north. Had the wagons in Anchor Sidings Road 12 been relocated? Sadly not but a further reversal after a short while could only mean one thing the highly prized High Lines and a highlight for me! The tour reached the first set of points, equalling the previous record set by our 18 Aug 2018 tour (very much appreciated as I wasn't on that). After a good view of the obscure and rarely seen lines and locos up there, reversing, we headed north again, completing the Coke Ovens Weighbridge Loop. Then the tour took the inner loop to Mills Exchange Sidings for dead end Number 6 to the parked wagons. Returning north, a further reversal saw us take through Siding No10; I had hoped for 8 or 9 but was thwarted by more wagons!


Appleby Coke Ovens quenching tower... beyond workers have hoods and respirators - rare track indeed! There were many coke ovens in Britain once. Some (such as Norwood in Newcastle) were so regular you could set your watch by the plumes of steam. The ovens have to be kept going 24 hours a day or the internal walls collapse.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]


To follow it was via the former Bloom & Billet Mill (rare running through a building here) to the Concast area via the current main line. This has a sharp 'S' shape curve which the brakevans squeal round. We were surprised and delighted to discover a new straighter, more direct line being built, in fact almost complete except for the new points, which were lying adjacent to each end and awaiting installation. This new through route (BLN 1320.5) has a loop in the middle, bypasses the Slab Yard and is expected to be open before our 26 Aug 2019 tour. It will be more suitable for the Norwegian locos.

This area was very much alive which was good as the heat of the castings was certainly appreciated. After testing the buffers of both sidings (difficult as they are rarely clear - this was a short window of opportunity we grabbed) and Caster 5 Loop, it was off via 5 Bay Loop (another first for me) then the Mill Shop Running Road to the Iron Pits. All track was covered as far as possible, despite the Shark brakevan ballast plough disagreeing with the buildup of deposits, but fortunately only in one direction!

With light fading it was off to our last area - the Torpedo Repair Bay, where Roads 1 (inside the building), 4 and the eastern stub (effectively Road '6') to a parked wagon were covered. Welcome heat was generated from a hot torpedo wagon being cleaned out. Alas, after 7 hours which had really flown by, our tour was over. One brakevan had a very good fire warden (Mark Haggas), the Shark is 'fireless' and our speedy Coventry member eventually slowly coaxed the fire of the third into action. The Society's hypothermia blanket was not deployed. Finally it is pleasing to report our donation of £2,907 to support the good work of the AFRPS volunteers. A big thank you to all involved in the planning, operating and catering on this fantastic fixture and, if you missed out, why not try the August one? [After a recount - BLN 1321.147 - this has been re-designated No19 of recent years.] I'm already eagerly counting down the days to the 2019 Christmas break in anticipation of a 4 Jan 2020 No20 visit.


An inviting line up to the refurbished High Lines (I'd be inclined to agree).
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




For many the 'high' light of the whole railtour was the High Lines alongside the top of the Four Queens Blast Furnaces with their mysterious, rarely seen, track and inhabitants. These High Line 'locos' are not classed as 'railway' but as 'machinery' and therefore are not part of the normal railway infrastructure - their drivers are classed as 'machine operators'.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]




The self-powered hoppers on Scunthorpe High Lines by the Four Queens Blast Furnaces.
[© Simon Mortimer. 2019]

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