The Ffestiniog Railway is replacing conventional wooden sleepers with plastic. Recycled milk bottles form the main constituent of the plastic sleepers which very much like the traditional: the slight difference is only apparent when you are very close to them.
They come to the railway as standard gauge they are then cut in half and predrilled ready to receive the rail chairs. These new sleepers are very adaptable and unwanted holes in them can be repaired with a kind of puncture repair kit. The railway’s Infrastructure Manager Alex Spring is very pleased with them and says that “they will last for a hundred years”. In fact, through this order the Ffestiniog will be saving the felling of more than a football pitch worth of tropical hardwood from Africa or South America to use as sleepers. This hardwood will have taken upwards of one hundred years to grow but would have only lasted about a third of this time on the railway. The Ffestiniog will be providing a highly effective use for plastic waste which would have ended up in landfill, shipped to Asia and worse still ending up in the oceans. The use of these sleepers is part of the railway’s attempt to be as sustainable as possible. The Festiniog Railway Society has funded the supply of these sleepers for the next four years.
The plan is to replace five hundred metres of wooden sleepers with the new. Two hundred metres were replaced before Christmas with the remainder being replaced by the end of March when the daily train service starts. For those people who know the railway, the places involved are between Boston Lodge (the railway’s workshops) and Rhiw Plas Bridge (where the A487 crosses the line between Porthmadog and Minffordd) and from Crossing Bothy to Crossing Mawr (between Penrhyndeudraeth and Tan-y-Bwlch). The re-sleepering involves the removal of the ballast down to formation level, placing a geo-textile membrane to stop fine particles percolating up into the ballast while allowing rainwater to percolate down through it. Following on from this, ballast will be laid so that the track with the new sleepers will be placed on it; the last part of the operation is to lay the final amount of ballast so that the railway’s tamper can put the final touches to the work. At Crossing Mawr new drains are being installed to cope with the large amount of rainwater which runs down the forestry track and into the formation. It is well to remember that the railway is located in one of the wettest parts of Wales.
Elsewhere there is plenty of work going on. Two new turnouts have been ordered to replace the worn-out ones in Boston Lodge yard. The Ffestiniog Railway Society has also funded these.
The railway is always looking out for volunteers to work in the Permanent Way Department. The work is very rewarding. Duke of Edinburgh Award candidates are always welcome. Network Rail allows its employees to come to us on” charity leave”. Lineside maintenance provides ongoing work; cutting back vegetation, maintaining fencing and many other similar jobs. In fact, this year sees the return of the “Brambles” group who will celebrate sixty years doing this kind of work. The group was started by long-time volunteer Nigel Gray.
The Signals and Telegraph Department will have installed the micro ETS equipment between Porthmadog and Rhyd Ddu on the Welsh Highland before the new operating season. The Infrastructure Manager Alex Spring is very happy about this because “because it will greatly enhance the operational scope of the Welsh Highland”. The final phase of micro ETS installation will take place perhaps during the next winter. This means that old token and ticket system will be finally replaced.
For those interested in the railway’s tunnels, work on the southern portal of the Moelwyn Tunnel will be completed for the new running season which starts at the end of March. It will look as impressive as the recently completed northern portal. The work is being done by local contractor Eurwyn Jones.
As you can see from these notes there is a great deal of work being done on the railway in the winter period to ensure a successful 2020 season. The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland are always keen to attract new volunteers. Why don’t you look at our website to see if there something for site to see if there something for you?